In separate proclamations on March 30, 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant and Secretary of State Hamilton Fish announced that the necessary 28 states had ratified the Fifteenth Amendment.1 Joyously, African Americans and white Republicans throughout the nation made preparations to celebrate the event that one black California leader called "one of the grandest achievements of the nineteenth century."2 The San Francisco Bulletin hailed Grant's announcement as "The Second Emancipation Proclamation."3 In California cities, large and small, celebrants turned out throughout April and early May to welcome the amendment and the black suffrage that would follow its addition to the Constitution.

Writing to its state and local affiliates, the Executive Committee established early in 1869 at the National Convention of the Colored People of the United States, headquartered in Washington, D. C., called for "the general assembling of the colored people of every State and Territory throughout the length and breadth of the land, whenever the said Fifteenth Amendment shall be officially announced as ratified."4 Individual cities scheduled festivities for locally appropriate dates, but, at the suggestion of the Executive Committee,5 April 5 was the day most frequently chosen. From early April through mid-May African Americans and supportive whites, primarily Republicans, but including some Democrats, gathered to commemorate "the righteous act of our fellow-countrymen, in constitutionally securing to us that which has always been our just due, but unjustly withheld."6

Elaborate ceremonies took place in Washington D. C., New York City, Boston, and Chicago. At the capital the Goddess of Liberty, who was also a fixture in several of the California celebrations, was represented in black.7 In what the Savannah Republican called the "spirit of harmony and good will," the Augusta, Georgia, celebration was postponed when the chosen day conflicted with the day traditionally set aside for decorating Confederate graves.8 At the Louisville procession the amendment was depicted as a locomotive, followed by 29 cars representing the ratifying states. Several jackasses harnessed to the rear car symbolized those states opposed to ratification, "vainly trying to pull the train backward."9

The celebration in Baltimore eclipsed all others. Its importance was due in part to the close association with Baltimore of several black leaders, notably Frederick Douglass. That city also had the largest black population in the former slaveholding South, and the first election there after ratification would immediately demonstrate the political power of black voters.10 Not held until May 14, long after most other cities had honored the amendment with parades, speeches, fireworks and balls, the Baltimore festivities drew an estimated 10,000 marchers who paraded over a six and one-half mile route. One observer reported that the procession lasted five hours. Douglass, the nation's most prominent black abolitionist, was the principal orator, joined by numerous dignitaries from state and national government.11

In the Far West, major celebrations took place in Portland, Oregon,12 and in Virginia City and Elko, Nevada.13 At Elko the celebration became a vehicle for demanding that African American children be allowed to attend local public schools.14 Even Nevada mining communities with relatively small black populations, such as White Pine, held commemorative programs.15

With state government completely in the hands of Democrats and much of the press reflecting that party's dominance, controversy arose in California about the legitimacy of the Fifteenth Amendment and whether a reason for celebration actually existed. Democrats repeated the argument, raised earlier during the ratification debate, that the amendment was unconstitutional. To this they now added the charge that even if it had been a valid subject for amendment, ratification failed because the necessary 28 states had not voted to accept it.16

At issue was the questionable ratification by three states: New York, Indiana, and Georgia. Having first ratified the amendment while the Republicans were in power, the New York legislature rescinded this approval when the Democrats regained control of state government, creating a constitutional question about the right of a state to reverse a previous act of ratification. Indiana's endorsement, obtained after enough Democrats had walked out of the session to prevent the presence of a quorum, raised yet another reason for doubt about the legitimacy of ratification. Democrats also questioned Georgia's coerced approval, required by Radical Republicans as a newly added condition for regaining that state's seats in Congress.17

Despite the controversy, the official proclamations from Washington created euphoria among those Californians who supported black suffrage. Local ad hoc celebration committees emerged in more than a dozen cities and towns, primarily in the central portion of the state. California's speedy response was due to the telegraph. A decade earlier, Californians would have waited for days for word of a President's action. But in 1870 a major announcement such as this was known in any western city with a telegraph operator as quickly as it was known on the east coast. Consequently, Californians were among the first to formally celebrate the addition of the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution. While others prepared to celebrate, the Democratic editor of the Santa Clara Argus declared that whites could find no joy in commemorating ratification of the amendment.18

While Nevada City blacks chose to wait for a copy of the President's proclamation before celebrating,19 African Americans in both San Francisco and Sacramento had begun planning local celebrations in mid-February after Georgia became the 28th state to approve the amendment.20 San Francisco County, with an African American population of 1,330, held about one-third of the blacks in the state.21 It was the center of black intellectual and political activity, and the home of the Elevator, at that time the state's only black newspaper.22 Sacramento County, with 475 blacks, ranked second.23 And it was in Sacramento, before any of the formal celebrations could take place or in most cases were even scheduled, that the first observances in the state occurred.

The nature of Sacramento's two impromptu celebrations hinted at a lingering racial prejudice held by some white supporters of the amendment. The first observance took place at noon on Thursday, March 31, the day following the announcement of ratification. In a brief ceremony, Sacramento's "colored citizens" gave a one hundred gun salute.24 On Saturday, April 2, Sacramento's "Union Boy" squad, a white militia company, met at noon and fired thirty guns to salute each of the ratifying states. That evening they assembled and again fired guns in honor of ratification.25 Initial press reports gave no indication of underlying friction among the celebrants, but in their Monday editions two Sacramento newspapers explained that the Saturday salute was on behalf of certain Republicans and "had nothing to do with the colored celebration of the ratification."26


But despite the advance planning in Sacramento and San Francisco, the first formal celebration held in California took place at Hinshaw's Hall in Petaluma on Friday, April 1, a day after the President's proclamation first appeared in the state's newspapers. Perhaps the early nature of the Petaluma celebration resulted from the premature announcement in the Journal & Argus, a local Republican weekly, that the President had already signed the proclamation. That notice ran on Saturday, March 26.27

While the Journal & Argus was unable to give more than a brief report in its issue on Saturday, April 2, because the paper went to press on Friday afternoon, the following week's edition contained a lengthy report of the festivities. Calling the President's proclamation of the Fifteenth Amendment "The grandest triumph in the history of our free institutions,"28 the paper reported in detail the "general jollification" by "the colored people of this city." Following a salute to the nation at noon in the plaza, flags waved throughout Petaluma. That evening, Rev. J. W. Johnson of the First Baptist Church prayed that they would use their newly acquired political power "to the glory and advancement of the whole country." Marshal of the Day George Miller read the amendment and a statement of principles, followed by Prof. Edward S. Lippitt, speaker of the evening and a white who would soon become editor of the Journal and Argus.

In his oration, Lippitt went to great lengths to distinguish between political and social rights, noting that "the mere exercise of the ballot was not a key to society, and no matter how far the freedom of the polls might be extended, yet individuality and social relations were not in the least compromised thereby." That had been a Republican theme throughout the battle to enfranchise blacks, with many Republicans denying that extension of the franchise either conferred or advanced social equality. Lippitt furthered the point, made by Rev. Johnson, that "the colored people" should educate their race up to the requirements of their new responsibilities, a theme that was expressed in editorials and speeches elsewhere during the next few weeks.29


The formal celebration by Sacramento's "colored citizens," on Tuesday, April 5,30 included a late morning parade consisting of eighty carriages, the Goddess of Liberty, a score of horsemen, bands, school children, Sunday school groups, military units and numerous other marchers. The procession ended at the African Methodist Episcopal (A. M. E.) church where the group heard numerous orators, the ceremonies ending with a grand ball that night.31 In introducing the speakers, chairman Aaron Jackson concentrated on emancipation rather than extension of the franchise. Having noted that slavery was "a curse as great upon him who inflicted as upon him who suffered," Jackson rhetorically called upon Barclay "Brad-awl Henley," the Democratic assemblyman who had suggested that black voters might be dealt with by the use of a brad-awl, to rejoice with them in celebration of the amendment.32

Following reading of the amendment and recitation of a poem written for the occasion by Anne Dyer, San Mateo Republican Assemblyman Seldon Finney and former assemblyman John G. McCallum, among the several whites in attendance, addressed the assemblage.33 The principal speech of the day was made by Rev. Joshua B. Handy, but the content was not reported by any of the papers. While the Bee, a Republican paper, noted that "the day's festivities reflected credit on the colored folks, and they have no reason to feel otherwise than proud," it devoted but a single paragraph to a review of the program. The most extensive review came over a period of two weeks in the Elevator.34

On the other hand, the State Capital Reporter, a Democratic organ edited by the not-yet-famous Henry George, set aside almost an entire column for a detailed but sarcastically humorous commentary on the day's activities, in contrast to the unbiased announcement of the upcoming festivities that had appeared in that paper the day of the celebration.35 The Reporter pounced on shouts of "Hang him" which came from the audience in response to the rhetorical question, raised by McCallum and Handy, of what to do when an African American voted for a Democrat, repeating that audience response several times during the critique of the oratory. George's daily also took occasion to belittle Miss Dyer's poetry ("Space forbids giving the verses on `Victory' by the poetess, though we have read many worse"), the Goddess of Liberty ("a bright mulatto with long streaming locks of raven curls") and virtually every speaker, including Finney and McCallum.36

In rebuttal, the Sacramento Record claimed that Miss Huston, the young woman who portrayed the Goddess of Liberty, was an orphan who had been brought to California by friends after her father died in the New York mob riots of 1863.37 The Reporter's account of the proceedings prompted "Truth" to write to the Bee wondering if "the necessities of political party strife demand the utter disregard of truth which is so often manifested by ... editors." "Truth" charged that the Reporter "willfully misrepresented" speeches by Finney and McCallum. He noted that after shouts from the audience indicated that some present were willing to deny the ballot to those who might cast a vote for the other party, Finney replied: "Would you then practice upon your fellow citizens that despotism from which you have just escaped--that tyranny to which you have been subjected for these two hundred years?" To which, wrote "Truth," the immediate response was "No, no, no."38


While Sacramentans commemorated ratification, they were joined that same day by celebrants in many cities across the nation. In San Francisco a procession estimated at upwards of 2,000 men, women and children marched through the city.39 Erroneously anticipating an earlier signing of the Presidential proclamation, editor Philip Bell of the Elevator had initially written that the city's festivities would take place on March 22.40 Instead, the President's delay in announcing ratification postponed the celebration until April 5.

Following a salute from one hundred guns on Russian Hill at noon, the procession moved down Powell Street through the main part of town, passing the tomb of Thomas Starr King and the statue of Abraham Lincoln, and ending at Pacific Hall in the California Theater. Prominent in the march were several black "militias," including the Brannan Guard. As in processions elsewhere, participants carried banners representing the ratifying states, and separately those of the non-ratifiers. The Goddess of Liberty, school children, bands, benevolent societies and numerous citizens in carriages followed.41

The San Francisco Call remarked that one company in the procession consisted of about fifty handsomely dressed boys, well behaved, and not

    a full-blooded negro among them. Many of them were very light-skinned, with light-colored hair, regular features, and possessing generally the ordinary features of the Anglo-Saxon type. It is safe to say that in that whole squad of boys there was more of the blood of the white race than the black. A similar fact was evident in the van containing girls representing the different States of the Union. In some respects the "war of the races" of which so much has been written and said, does not seem to exist.42

The Bulletin noted the historic nature of the occasion:

    There was a volume of history in the pageant, and few could mistake the import. It signified more than a simple holiday display could exhibit. It celebrated the overthrow of oppression and enlargement of rights, privileges, duties and obligations to a class from whom all rights and duties, except those of slaves, had been withheld.43

The procession was largely without incident, with

    not one intoxicated or disorderly man in the procession, not one disturbance during the whole day in which a colored man was the aggressor, or in fault, ... notwithstanding occasional vexatious delays and malicious provocations...44

But there were delays and provocations.45 In addition to several minor disturbances, one serious altercation took place as the procession was forming on Powell. A man mounted on a wagon tried to force his way through the marchers, only to be dragged from his vehicle by onlookers as he whipped his animals forward at full speed toward a vehicle filled with little girls. Police intervened when it appeared an angry crowd was about to beat him.46

As the procession neared Lincoln School on Fifth Street, George Harrison and Edward Jenkins, assigned to place a floral wreath on the Lincoln statue, approached school principal Bernhard Marks, viewing the procession from the school steps, and asked for permission. Marks reportedly denied their request: "I won't allow it without an order from the Superintendent." By the time Marks relented the procession had largely passed.47

In a letter to the Marysville Appeal, that Republican paper's "special female correspondent" in San Francisco, Laura D. Wakelee, described the wagon altercation but considered the Lincoln School incident the most troubling one along the march. In her version Marks finally allowed placement of the wreath, but before all of the procession had passed the school he ordered the janitor to remove it.48 In the Chronicle report, the wreath was never placed on the Lincoln statue inasmuch as the procession had nearly passed that point. The Bulletin said the wreath was only on the statue briefly before the janitor, at Marks' order, threw it into the street, where a storekeeper rescued it and placed it on display in his shop.49 The Alta ignored the Lincoln Statue incident, reporting only that a wreath was placed on it as the assemblage cheered.50 School board minutes in the weeks immediately following the celebration indicate no reference to the Lincoln School incident. Instead of a reprimand, Marks was given a new buggy a month later by his friends.51

To Wakelee, the celebration was the principal event of the week. The proceedings were "very impressive and worked with a modest good taste and perfect order." She observed that such a procession a few years earlier would have not been permitted without much objection, perhaps even bloodshed and violence. The general passive acceptance by the city's residents of the march she attributed to the fact that the amendment had given the city's "colored people" the ballot, increasing the electorate by about 1,500 votes. While she exaggerated the size of San Francisco's adult black male population, Wakelee was correct in her assumption that both political parties now recognized the value of that vote in closely contested races.52

Following the procession the oratorical portion of the day took place at Pacific Hall. After an invocation by Rev. Thomas M. D. Ward, who asked for a divine blessing on Grant and on Senators Charles Sumner, Benjamin Butler and "on that colored Senator (Hiram Revels, Mississippi Republican)," William H. Hillery gave the oration of the day. The only record of his speech, which the Chronicle called "one of the most eloquent and effective speeches we have ever heard, from black or white," is in the contemporary press reports.53

In the course of the next hour, he recounted such events as the Missouri Compromise, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Fugitive Slave Act and Judge Roger Taney's Dred Scott decision. The cornerstone of human rights was laid with the Declaration of Independence, Hillery said, but over the years the extension of slavery became the leading passion of the country. He then paid homage to the abolitionists, whose efforts led to Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.

Hillery read the list of states that had ratified the amendment and "commented with severity on the political complexion of the Legislature."

    By this amendment colored men were endowed with the rights of citizenship, and he wished to say there, deliberately and in behalf of the black men of the Nation, from Maine to Georgia, that they would assert and exercise those rights and in the State--a Democratic Legislature and Brad-awl Henley to the contrary notwithstanding--they would vote at the next election, or die in the attempt. (Enthusiastic cheering.)54

Hillery handled the Chinese question by evading it, with a humorous remark:

    If the colored people and poor whites can manage to keep out of John Chinaman's way, he will take care of himself and perhaps of them, too.

Regarding female suffrage, Hillery argued that if woman was

    fit to walk by his side in the field of carnage, bearing soothing cordials for his wounds, she was fit to walk side by side with him to the ballot-box.55

He concluded by referring to African Americans who held seats in the House of Representatives and in the judicial system, urging his audience to make "Excelsior" their motto--onward and upward--until a black president presided over the nation.56

Rev. John R. V. Morgan, in brief remarks that recognized the divisive issue of social equality, denied that African Americans sought that. Up to now, he said, they had been opposed to amalgamation.57

The closing speech came from Peter Anderson, one of the major black leaders in the city and former editor of the then defunct Pacific Appeal. He emphasized the loyalty of blacks to the Republican party, provided "it continues with its progressive ideas."

    No colored man can consistently vote the Democratic ticket, with the present National and State platform, every plank of which is vehemently opposed to negro suffrage....58

When Anderson began to speak a large part of the audience left. In light of the political animosity between Anderson, one-time editorial associate of, but more recently journalistic rival of, Philip Bell and the Elevator, their departure may well have been an indication of factionalism within the black community.59

The evening closed with two balls, one at Pacific Hall and the other at Mercantile Library Hall. In contrast to other such ratification balls, there was no editorial comment about the ethnic makeup of those in attendance.


Although the celebrations in Sacramento and San Francisco exceeded in scope the one that took place in Los Angeles, the event there far overshadowed the others in terms of press coverage. The importance of the Los Angeles celebration cannot be measured by the size of its African American population. With only 134 black residents in the county in 1870, Los Angeles ranked seventh in the state, behind San Francisco, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Santa Clara, Nevada and Yuba, and only barely ahead of El Dorado's 132. A dozen other counties had at least sixty each.60

What made the Los Angeles commemoration more noteworthy than the celebration of any other California city was the role of a prominent Democratic politician in the festivities. His appearance, comments and conduct at the evening ball that concluded the ceremony kept editors throughout the state busy for the next month.61

The festivities began at 4 a.m. on Tuesday, April 12, with a salute from what the press described as "artillery-anvil." Despite the unusually early hour, fifty persons were present at the ceremony, conducted on a hillside lot recently purchased by the city's A.M.E. church. While there was no parade, an evening "Ratification Ball," which drew one hundred invited guests and an untold number of others, was followed by a midnight supper provided primarily by Winnie Owens,62 the widow of Robert Owens, who had been one of the leading African Americans in the city.63

Among those in attendance were at least forty white men, including local politicians who, according to the press, were cultivating an anticipated fifty black voters,64 an estimate that would prove to be overly generous. Present at the ball was one of Southern California's leading Democrats, Col. Edward J. C. Kewen. A "forty-niner" who left a successful Missouri law practice to join the gold rush, the youthful Kewen's oratorical ability established him as a prominent figure among California's Whigs. In 1850 the first state legislature selected the twenty-four-year old to be attorney general. The following year, as candidate for Congress, he lost a close election to the Democratic nominee. After a brief interlude as an official with William Walker's filibustering expedition in Nicaragua in the mid-1850s where he adopted the self-imposed title of "Colonel," Kewen returned to California, settling in Los Angeles. Now a Democrat, he briefly headed the local school system before his election as district attorney in 1859. A pro-Southern, Breckinridge Democrat in 1860, Kewen was enormously popular in a city with an overwhelmingly pro-secessionist electorate. His outspoken opposition to the Lincoln administration's handling of the Civil War won Kewen an assembly seat in 1862 - and led to his arrest for treason. He was held in Fort Alcatraz for two weeks in 1862, while an assemblyman-elect, and was released upon posting bond and signing a loyalty oath. Demonstrating the pro-southern feeling in Los Angeles, his constituents re-elected him to the assembly in 1863.65

According to the Star, the more moderate of the city's two Democratic papers in 1870, Kewen put his oratorical skill to work at the Fifteenth Amendment celebration:

    [Kewen] addressed the assemblage, assuring his colored fellow citizens, that, whereas he was heretofore opposed to the great change which had been effected in their condition, now that it had become law and a fixed fact, he accepted the situation, and cordially clasped hands with them on their elevation to the rights secured for them under the Constitution.66

The Weekly Republican, the city's only paper of that persuasion, related a different version of the role of white politicians, especially Kewen, at the celebration, and gave a much fuller account of his remarks:

The supper was about midnight, but for two or three hours previous dancing was going on. At least forty white gentlemen were present, the most prominent being several leading Democratic politicians, among them the President of the City Council, and a member of the Board of Supervisors, a candidate for the State Senate last year, a candidate for County Assessor, etc.67

Some of these were quite active in playing the agreeable, and danced frequently with the wives and sisters of their "colored brethren," and promenading the hall with a dusky belle on each arm, or clinging fondly to some sweet dark one in the embraces of the waltz, were ready to vow it was the proudest and happiest moment of their lives. The Democrats, who were so active in paying honors to their newly enfranchised "colored brethren" may have thought that by promptly according social equality they could bring themselves to a level with the Republicans who had accorded political equality, and have an even start in the next political race. Or, perhaps, they have been smitten with remorse because of the injustice of their past course toward the American citizens of African descent, and having seen the error of their ways at the eleventh hour, their affectionate earnestness of last Tuesday night may be explained by remembering the zeal which always characterizes new converts.

In the course of the evening Col. E. J. C. Kewen addressed "his colored brethren, ladies and gentlemen," saying that he and his friend Oscar Smith, colored, were born in the same State, and had always been friends,68 that he had opposed the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, and had opposed Emancipation, but he bowed to destiny and accepted the situation. As the latter part of his speech was reported to us its effect was that he had loved the negroes as slaves and hoped that they would love him now that they were free. He spoke about twenty minutes. At the conclusion of his remarks, the colored lecturer, Rev. J. E. M. Gilliard,69 rose and replied, extending his forgiveness to the frank and manly Colonel for his past offences, and the two eloquent orators clasped hands in presence of the delighted audience, who perhaps regarded the union as symbolical of the speedy marriage of the negro race to the Democratic party; and indeed it seems as though the coy Democracy is about to cease her struggles with modesty and yield herself to the embraces and direction of the negro. The scene was quite touching, and might have brought tears to the eyes of some of the Colonel's partisans, but we regret to say that some of the profane have since swore about it.70

The Independent concluded the article with the following paragraph, apparently also taken from the Republican but omitted in the Elevator's reprint:

    No white ladies were present, and uncomplimentary as it is to say it, we fear that they were not missed, for we have heard young gentlemen noted for their gallantry confess that they had not had so pleasant a time at a ball for years. By all accounts it was an unusually happy occasion, and indicates that reconstruction is now complete; but it has called forth the remark that "the Democrats seem to think more of a nigger than a white man does."

The Associated Press dispatch described the celebration this way:

    The colored people of the city have had three days' celebration of the Fifteenth Amendment. At sunrise on the 12th, 140 guns were fired. On that day their places of business were closed. At the grand ball and collation, the Democracy were present in force and joined in the dance with the dusky beauties. Galliard, the colored orator, delivered an address. Col. E. J. C Kewen made a short speech, which was well received. The early Democratic bid for negro votes occasions much amusing comment. No applications have yet been made for registration; but it is understood that there will soon be a general move in this direction by the colored citizens. Good order was preserved throughout.71

For those readers unfamiliar with Kewen, the Bee made this identification:

    This Colonel Kewen was an early resident of Sacramento, practiced law here, was a Whig candidate for Congress at one time, and intends to be the Democratic candidate for Congress in the First District at the next Congressional election. [State Assemblyman Joseph?] Naphtaly says there are 2,500 negro voters there, and Colonel Kewen and his dancing friends have evidently entered upon the work of capturing them.72

The Daily News, the other Democratic paper in Los Angeles and one that continued to denounce the Reconstruction Amendments as illegally adopted, promptly denied that the Democrats had anything to do with the celebration. "[A]ny part Col. Kewen may have taken therein, was entirely disconnected with the Democracy or any other party."73

The strongly pro-Republican Marysville Appeal reported that Col. Kewen's speech "was well received, and no doubt quite amusing to those anxious to hear his say."74 In response to the Daily News' disclaimer and the criticism from the Marysville Appeal, Kewen published a letter to the editor:

    The Merry-Andrews75 of the Radical press have been galvanized into mirth over the trivial circumstance of the presence of a Democrat at the recent festival of Freedmen at Los Angeles. In the terse language of Victor Hugo, they have exhibited an "indescribable epilepsy of exhileration [sic]." The Los Angeles News seems morbidly sensitive to the hilarious jests of these Merry-Andrews. While holding myself entirely independent of the love or hatred of the Radical [Republican] party, I own I am not insensible to the claims which Democracy has upon my unfaltering allegiance. My political faith is founded in the immediacy of patriotic principle and is as unmovable as the unquarried granite. If my whim or inclination should prompt me to proclaim to the "dusky" citizens the ------ [ILLEGIBLE] persistence with which I combatted every step in their paths of progress to political advancement, and assure them that I "accepted the situation," as I would the Providential affliction of the cholera or small-pox, for the reason that it was unavoidable, I cannot see that Radicalism has been afforded any occasion for mirth, or Democracy for regret. If, in the instincts of a liberal partisanship I should counsel the newly-fledged citizen to the exercise of becoming meekness and humility in his new sphere, and impress upon him the necessity of educating himself into a proper appreciation of his obligations to government and country, there is nothing in this that should be provocative of inimical satire, or suggestive of a wound upon friendly sensibilities. I have yet to learn that it is incompatible with Democracy to observe towards the humblest class of citizens a decent and respectful civility. That the negro has been elevated into citizenship is a fault not imputable to any co-operation of mine. The government, if not the law, has proclaimed his status, and my opposition in the future, as it has been in the past, shall be characterized by no affected contempt for or disobedience to existing authority. I am content to war within the limits of the Constitution, to effect the overthrow of obnoxious legislation or usurped power, and in the meantime cannot admit any justifiable reflection either upon my political integrity or my character as a citizen, in the fact of being courteous to my enemies. For my participation in the "jubilee," as a man, I have no compunction, as a Democrat, no contrition.

    E. J. C. KEWEN76

The Weekly Republican's response:

    Col. Kewen, last Friday, published a communication rebuking the Los Angeles News for seeming morbidly sensitive to the hilarious jests of radical Merry-Andrews, over the presence of a Democrat at the 15th Amendment Festival here. The Col. is right. An old maxim says that there is no disputing about tastes. If the Colonel's whim prompts him to seek his amusement waltzing with the wives, daughters, or mothers of his colored fellow citizens, and the radicals, on the other hand, find their sport in looking on and laughing at the spectacle, it is, in either case, entirely a matter of taste, which a newspaper favoring social independence should leave every man to determine for himself. The Col. does not see that the Democracy should regret that he went right where the 15th Amendment was thickest, to tell the darkies that he "accepted the situation as he would the Providential affliction of the cholera or smallpox, for the reason that it was unavoidable." The former reports of his speech did not contain this passage, so uncomplimentary to the dusky nuisance. Can anyone imagine the Colonel sauntering through the Pest House, shaking hands with the small pox patients, and telling them that he "accepted the situation?"77

Commenting on Kewen's letter to the Daily News, the Marysville Appeal wondered:

    Was it to counsel "becoming meekness and humility," or was it to educate them to "the necessity of the obligations to government and country" that he whirled the colored damsels in the giddy mazes of the dance?78

The Republican Oakland Evening Termini challenged the Daily News' assertion that the Democrats were not in attendance at the ball and that paper's claim that Kewen did not represent that party:

    Colonel J.E.C.V.Q. Kewen has written a letter defending the part he took in this dance, saying he has nothing to take back or be ashamed of, but does not deny being there. We think the News man does not constitute the Democracy of Los Angeles, and if he was absent on the night in question at his usual game of "poker," it does not follow that Kewen and his crowd were not there.79

The Daily News replied:

    The News does not claim to be the Democracy of Los Angeles; it does claim, however, to know that the Democracy were not present upon the occasion alluded to, nor is the party responsible for the acts of Col. Kewen, or any one else who took part in the ball referred to. Of the number of white men who took part in the Ball, only three were Democrats, and if they chose to merry make with Republicans and negroes they did so on their own responsibility and not that of the Democracy. As well might [Frank] Pixley,80 in his late anti-Chinese speech be considered as representing the Radicals, as Kewen be considered representing the democracy while attending a negro ball. The editor of the News does not play poker or other games of cards, but he had fully as soon risk his chances at poker as with the Radicals and negroes.81

While the effort by Los Angeles Democrats to woo black voters was the main concern of Republican editors, the frequent and seemingly shocked manner in which they referred to Kewen and his fellow Democrats dancing with African American women - and the terms they used to describe those women - indicate a Republican unwillingness to welcome blacks as equal members of society instead of as simply new members of the electorate. Republican editors and politicians generally stressed their concern for the right of African Americans to a limited form of political equality (the right to vote, if not to hold office), but not the social equality that Kewen seemed to offer when he extended his arm to black women in an invitation to dance. Whether white Republicans at the ball participated in the dancing was never mentioned, although the final paragraph of the Weekly Republican's description of the affair, as quoted by the Independent, implies that "young gentlemen" in attendance apparently took part with great enjoyment. If there were forty whites present, of whom only three were Democrats, it is likely that Kewen and his fellow Democrats were not alone in dancing with African American women.

The issue of social equality was one that aroused passion throughout the nation. The Pennsylvania Democratic State Central Committee in 1865 warned that "Give the black man equal political rights in our country and you give him equal social rights."82 New York Republican Senator James Brooks predicted that social equality would lead to "mongrel schools and school-houses, to mongrel cars, to mongrel taverns, and to a complete mongrel social existence from the cradle to the grave."83

In California, reaction to Kewen's choice of dancing partners was widespread in the days immediately after the celebration. The Petaluma Journal and Argus, in a sarcastic comment entitled "On with the Dance!", cited Kewen as an example of Democrats who, unable to find a Constitutional way to bar black suffrage, had "gone over to the blacks with a loving embrace that is refreshing... join[ing] their sable brothers and sisters in the mazy dance."84

From the San Francisco Chronicle, a conservative Republican daily:

    The lion and the lamb fraternized most lovingly at Los Angeles, at the recent celebration. "The Democracy danced with the dusky beauties," says the [Associated Press] dispatch. Colonel E. J. C. Kewen, the old Secesh war-horse, addressed the colored people in terms that won their applause. He is proud to appear on the stand beside his brilliant brother orator, the dark-skinned Gilliard, and publicly recognize the negro as his equal. We can no longer doubt the sincerity of the Democracy, when they declared that social equality would follow political equality, for here we have a practical demonstration of their earnestness; and how cheerfully they accept the situation! Political equality being established by the Fifteenth Amendment, they manifestly surrender themselves to the arms of the "dusky beauties" in the mazy waltz, and wonder, aye, forget, that they have been so long estranged. How it must have revived in their memory the happy days of their youth, spent upon the old plantations of the South!85

The Los Angeles ratification ball found its way into comments on other events related to black suffrage. When the Reporter chidingly suggested that Democrats would gladly contribute to a fund to bring Mississippi's African American Sen. Hiram Revels, whom they despised and whose oratory they considered to be an embarrassment to the Republicans, to California during the next campaign, the Bee wondered: "Do you - a la Kewen - desire to dance with the dusky Senator?"86

In an editorial about Democratic support for African American William Bird, candidate for mayor of Virginia City, the Marysville Appeal reiterated that it had for some time asserted that as soon as the Negro received the ballot "the Democracy would immediately begin to figure for his vote." Thus, with the amendment approved "immediately we find Col. Kewen dancing with the colored maidens in Los Angeles, in celebration of the event...."87

As the Bee predicted, Kewen sought a congressional seat in 1872. Coming as he did from a region that had been strongly Democratic from the beginning of statehood, even during the Civil War, his victory was virtually assured. But Kewen irritated much of Southern California when he supported federal aid for a port at San Diego and deplored the waste of federal money on improvements at San Pedro. That was enough to turn Los Angeles voters against him and give the victory to his Republican opponent.88


While criticism of the Los Angeles interracial ball overshadowed abhorrence of such conduct at other celebrations, editors denounced instances of unacceptable racial mixing elsewhere. The San Jose celebration, which took place several days earlier than the Los Angeles affair, was criticized although less severely on much the same grounds as the one in Los Angeles. Following religious services at the Zion Church on April 7, San Jose's African Americans paraded to the Pleasure Gardens to hear orations by local black activist and barber Zebediah J. Purnell and two whites, San Jose Mercury editor James J. Owen and Superintendent of Schools Charles Silent, who served later as a county clerk and became a prominent judge. The ceremonies ended with a grand ball that night at the Phoenixonian Hall.89 It was the Mercury's account of the parade that irritated A. M. Morse, editor of the Nevada City Daily National Gazette. Owen had written:

    There were carriage loads of as beautiful, intelligent, and well dressed women and children as we ever saw in any "white" procession.

After claiming that the Mercury editor advocated the break down of all social distinctions between whites and blacks, Morse replied:

    This self-stultifying statement of the San Jose man shows to what degrading depths of falsehood and blindness a man may be brought to by Radicalism. This poor Mercury editor asserts that he never saw any white woman who was more "beautiful and intelligent," than the negresses in the procession of which he speaks. We pity him.90

The even more rabidly anti-black editor of the Sonoma Democrat, Robert Ferral, wrote:

    In San Jose the friends of "God and morality" gave a miscegenation ball, participated in by whites and blacks of both sexes. This is the "higher civilization" of the Shoo fly era.91

In a less pointed manner George's Reporter, seemingly without casting criticism, noted that at the San Jose ball

    quite a number of white persons were present. The daughter and son of the editor of one of the daily local journals were present and danced with partners of the opposite sex and color.92

That the shock of social equality transcended party was evident in the report by the conservative Republican San Francisco Chronicle's report of the San Jose ball. While the description apparently approved of the interracial nature of the celebration, it was written in a manner that must have raised eyebrows.

    No distinction as to color was made--colored gentlemen inviting white ladies, and white gentlemen inviting colored ladies to dance, each inviting and accepting with the most harmonious sang froid. The entire affair passed off with the most harmonious decorum and sociability.93

Two other incidents of what some editors considered questionable racial mixing occurred in connection with Fifteenth Amendment celebrations. The Republican Red Bluff Independent, reporting the festivities in Tehama County, noted that

    As we write the Fifteenth Amendment citizens of this County are having a jollification out on Oat Creek. Several of our Democratic citizens have gone out--whether to participate or not, we are not advised! Shoo, Fly! Don't bodder dem! Dey're a'ter de niggah vote!94

The Vallejo Chronicle recorded a similar occurrence:

    We have it on good authority that a Democratic editor and a Democratic member of the Legislature, were present on the occasion of the evening festivities of the colored people in a neighboring town, and joined in the dancing with dusky partners hanging on their arms. Shoo fly, don't bodder me!"95

"Shoo Fly" had been a favorite of black troops during the conflict. In their version its words were written in black dialect and referred specifically to African Americans. In 1870 the phrase "Shoo Fly! Don't Bodder Me!" was frequently used by Republican editors when attacking Democratic efforts to defeat the amendment or frustrate its operation once ratified, or to deride Democratic efforts to lure African American voters to their party. Conversely, Democratic editors used the phrase to ridicule what they saw as the Republicans fawning appeal to African Americans.

California editors expressed concern about racial mixing at the Fifteenth Amendment celebrations throughout the nation as well as in their own state. Editor Ferral, of the Sonoma Democrat, denounced an interracial dinner in Washington hosted by John W. Forney, Radical Republican editor of the Washington Chronicle,

    at which whites and blacks mingled lovingly together. The President of the United States, the Ethiopian Senator from Mississippi [Revels], and a host of other public funcs, enjoyed themselves in the Shoo fly fashion, without regard to race or color.96

Both the San Francisco Chronicle and the Nevada City Daily National Gazette printed the telegraphic dispatch from Bloomington, Illinois, of a "wealthy German radical" who "promenaded the streets arm in arm with a young colored woman." Wrote editor Morse in response:

    Promenading the streets, arm in arm with a negress, preceded by a band of music! A fit celebration of the Fifteenth Amendment, and a characteristic Radical idea.97


While the Democratic editor of Nevada City's Daily National Gazette was uncompromising in his criticism of editor Owen's praise for the San Jose celebration, he reported the celebration in his own city in a slightly more positive, though brief, fashion: "On the whole, the procession was quite creditable for the numbers engaged in it."98 Large advertisements in the Grass Valley Daily Union and the Nevada City Transcript detailed the "order of exercises" for the ceremony,99 which was postponed from Tues., April 5, until Tuesday, April 12, while they awaited official word of the proclamation. There was, of course, no "official word," so in the end the celebration took place without it.100

As planned by the Lincoln Club, a Nevada City black organization,101 a local delegation walked to the edge of town to greet a contingent of blacks from Grass Valley who had marched four miles to participate in the festivities.102 The ceremony began with morning services at the Congregational church103 where Rev. Alexander Parker, a white minister, delivered a timely message based on Acts 22:36: "Take heed what thou doest; this man is a Roman,"104 Comparing citizenship and the right of suffrage granted to blacks by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the benefits that were Paul's once he established his right as a Roman citizen, thus claiming an end to the persecution he had suffered while considered an alien, Parker noted the events that elevated America's freedmen to a similar position:

The political changes which has [sic] been going on in our country for the past ten years have been of the most marvelous kind. For thirty years previously a contest had been going on in the nation between the North and the South. The cause of the struggle was a race of human beings, born in the country, but denied every right of manhood, bought and sold like cattle, purposely kept in the most abject ignorance, except so far as their knowledge would accrue to the benefit of their masters. They might be whipped for any trifling or imaginary offense, and shot dead if they manifested any signs of resentment; to whom justice was a mockery, and respecting whom the highest legal authority in the land declared that they had no rights that a white man was bound to respect....

Five years of war left us practically a free nation. The colored man was free. No man could call him a chattle. Yet that was not enough. He had yet to demand full justice, by the obliteration of all discriminating laws. He was an American without the rights of the citizen, and anything short of political equality would be a mockery and a perpetuation, though in a milder form, of the curse which had forced the war upon us....

Henceforth the colored man can say "I am an American citizen, and the flag that waves over me is my guarantee of protection in any part of the country or of the world."105

Following Parker's speech, blacks and whites numbering perhaps 150 ignored the inclement weather and marched down Main street, preceded by the all-black Carter's Brass Band, to the Nevada Theater where Rev. James H. Hubbard of Grass Valley was orator of the day.106 The festivities concluded with a ball at Temperance Hall, an "exceedingly pleasant affair" attended by "a good many white persons."107 This interracial ball, moreover, drew no hostile comment.

While no Democrats were reported to have marched in the parade, there was a Democratic presence in an unusual form. Grand Marshal Joseph Thomas of Grass Valley rode a $1000 horse loaned for that purpose by Thomas Findley, a local banker, Democrat and former state treasurer. That prompted the Transcript editor to wonder if this was a Democratic effort to "ride in on the Fifteenth Amendment?"108 In response, the Grass Valley Daily Union explained that

    No, the Fifteenth Amendment rode the horse. The Grand Marshal spoken of has been, for a long time, a faithful attache at Findley's bank and the loan of the horse has been promised for the occasion for many months.109

Rev. Hubbard, pastor of the Grass Valley A. M. E. Church, was the principal speaker at Nevada City and at Grass Valley, where he repeated his speech that evening. He had also been the orator at Marysville (April 7) and delivered the same speech again at Red Bluff (April 28).110 Both the Nevada City Transcript and the Red Bluff Independent reprinted large portions of his speech verbatim - apparently from a copy given to them by Hubbard.111 The complete text of his ratification speech was reproduced in an anthology of Hubbard's orations, in which he confirmed that he had delivered the same Fifteenth Amendment speech in all four cities.112

Hubbard came west at age 17 from his birthplace in Baltimore in 1855. While in Nevada he became a Christian and chose to make the church his career. Shortly thereafter he joined the African Methodist Episcopal church in Sacramento, where the pastor was Thomas M.D. Ward, the same minister who offered the invocation at the San Francisco celebration in 1870. Licensed to preach in 1860, Hubbard was one of three deacons ordained at the creation of the California Conference of the A.M.E. in 1865. Following his designation as an elder in 1869, he held pastorships in San Francisco, Sacramento and Nevada County before moving on to Colorado.113

Hubbard's speech, an hour in length and delivered in the rhetorical style common to that day, recounted the tribulations of slavery, the rise of abolitionism, the coming of the Civil War and the exhilaration emanating from emancipation, citizenship and suffrage. His oration was filled with poetry, Biblical references, literary allusions and, above all, a biting refutation of the arguments used by Democrats to justify their opposition to African Americans. In the last half of his remarks Hubbard took note of several Democrats who opposed ratification in the legislature, noting particularly Assemblyman Barclay "brad-awl" Henley of Sonoma County.

In arguing against black suffrage on grounds of the incompetency of blacks, Henley had said that "The negro of ten years ago is the negro of to-day,"114 to which Hubbard responded:

    Mr. Henley is a truthful man, and Democrats are all truthful men. In 1860 the negro was a slave. Mr. Henley says he was the same in 1870. In 1860 the American negro had no record as a soldier that white men were bound to respect. But several years before 1870 his valor had been tested on many a well-fought field, among which Port Hudson, Milliken's Bend, Fort Wagner, and Olustee, stand out in bold relief. Henley says, in substance, he has no such record. In 1860 the negro, as a slave, was denied the benefit of mental culture; but, in 1868, they were supporting 555 schools; and, in South Carolina, 25,000 men and women were able to read, who, the year before, did not know their alphabet! And even at the time the truth-telling Henley was making his famous speech the negroes were attending the day and night schools by the thousands.... Henley says they are as ignorant now as in 1860. But again: Ten years ago these four millions of negroes were the property of Democratic slaveholders; but before brad-awl Henley taxed his brain in preparing that suicidal attack on the negro, those hitherto slaves were free and owned themselves, wives and children; possessed their dwellings, school-houses, churches, orchards, fields of waving grain, horses, cattle, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in bank. In the face of all this our Democratic exponent says that ten years have produced no change in the negro. But he, you know, is a truthful man, and those Democrats are all truthful men. We give Mr. Henley the benefit of believing conscientiously what he has said, and accordingly pronounce him a fit subject for the Stockton Insane Asylum.115

The Nevada City Transcript, which regularly devoted the entire first page to advertisements, on this occasion turned over all of page one to Hubbard's celebratory oration. Page two quoted extensively from Rev. Alexander Parker, the other orator.116 The Grass Valley Daily Union, commenting on the initial review of Hubbard's speech in the Transcript,117 said the paper praised Hubbard in a manner that indicated the editor didn't expect much from his speech. "We knew that he could talk well."118

The Marysville Appeal, reviewing the speech as delivered in that city, remarked that Hubbard

    delivered one of the most eloquent and learned addresses it has been our pleasure to hear in this State. During an hour the speaker held his audience in listful attention, which was only broken by rapturous applause.119

In announcing that Hubbard would repeat his oration in Grass Valley on April 12, that city's paper noted that "it was spoken of in the highest terms by the critical editors of the Appeal."120


Nevada City was but one of several smaller California communities, particularly in the central part of the state, that conducted formal ceremonies to commemorate ratification. While their numbers were relatively few, African Americans in Red Bluff, Chico, Marysville, Grass Valley, Placerville, Stockton, Santa Rosa, Napa, Santa Cruz and Watsonville celebrated in April.121

Where the black community was too small to conduct its own celebration, delegations attended festivities nearby. A Solano County delegation journeyed to the San Francisco program while those from Oroville went to Marysville, Grass Valley residents marched to Nevada City, and African Americans from Castroville and Salinas attended the Watsonville celebration.122

Although with the exception of San Francisco these observances generally were carried off without disturbance, the colored ball at Watsonville was disrupted by "certain contemptible specimens of the caucasian race" who scattered cayenne pepper on the dance hall floor "and annoyed those present by hooting and other disagreeable noises."123 But normally the processions, speeches and balls took place without incident. The Stockton Independent, a Republican paper, said of the celebration in that city:

    The manner in which the colored citizens of Stockton, yesterday, celebrated the adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, was highly creditable to their intelligence. A more orderly procession never moved in the streets of Stockton. The celebration opened with religious exercises at the church on Washington street; and after the procession, general exercises appropriate to the occasion were had at Hickman's Hall. Rev. S. E. Reid, President, made an eloquent opening address; and Rev. S. B. Serrington read the proclamation in capital style. The oration, delivered by Rev. J. B. Sanderson, was an able production, and was listened to with profound attention by a large assembly, both white and colored. The hall was crowded. As the procession passed the Herald and INDEPENDENT offices, loud cheers were given for these papers. In the evening, interesting exercises were had in Hickman's Hall, and were enthusiastically kept up until half-past ten o'clock. A more orderly, circumspect and well conducted celebration never took place in the city.124

The format for the celebrations varied from place to place depending upon the size of the community. In San Francisco, Sacramento and Stockton celebrants formally paraded through town, with the marchers organized into various divisions. Businesses operated by African Americans were often closed during the ceremonies. At Stockton, Jeremiah B. Sanderson, teacher at the segregated African American school, won approval from the local board of education to close the school during the festivities.125 Smaller communities held no parades, but conducted ceremonies in a hall, as at Marysville, or, as at Red Bluff, on a farm or other suitable open area.

The Marysville Appeal, a Republican paper, wrote of that city's April 7 celebration at city hall, featuring Hubbard's oration:126

    All ... who witnessed the celebration yesterday were fully satisfied that two-thirds [sic] of the States have ratified the Amendment, and that the colored citizen is enfranchised. This fact was announced early and late yesterday by the booming cannon, the loud sounding church bells, and by the voice of an eloquent orator at the City Hall.... The white citizens of America have celebrated their independence for nearly a century--our colored citizens have just obtained their majority, and celebrated their annual anniversary yesterday.127

The Red Bluff program, held outdoors on April 28 at a ranch several miles out of town, typified festivities in many small places. Local exercises usually opened with a prayer by the chaplain, followed by music sung by the children (in Red Bluff they sang "Marching Thro' Georgia," as they did in San Francisco), reading of the presidential proclamation, reading of the amendment (although, surprisingly, that was not on the Red Bluff agenda), a discourse by the orator of the day, more music and a concluding benediction.128

African American clergymen provided orators for celebrations in several California cities. The Reverends Hubbard, Hillery and Gilliard were joined by Sanderson (the schoolmaster was also an A.M.E. minister) and S. E. Reid, both of whom spoke in Stockton, Rev. J. B. Handy, principal orator at Sacramento, and Rev. S. B. Serrington at Sonora.129 But not all scheduled orators were ministers. Sacramentans were disappointed by the failure of Marysville barber Edward P. Duplex to appear as scheduled, but it was assumed that he was busy with celebrations elsewhere. Duplex, a very successful businessman and in the 1890s the first black mayor of a California city (Wheatland), was Marysville's African American leader.130

Whites also participated in various roles, most notably as speakers, such as Petaluma editor and educator Edward S. Lippitt, Republican Assemblyman Finney at Sacramento and Democrat Kewen in Los Angeles. In honor of his contribution to the suffrage movement, Lippitt was awarded a set of silver tablespoons, engraved with the Goddess of Liberty on one side and his initials on the other.131 Former Marysville city alderman P. W. Winkley, a white who was designated to lead the celebration in that city, was similarly honored by African Americans there, who presented him with a watch and gold chain.132

Other whites served on committees planning the celebrations. At Nevada City, editor Morse of the Democratic Daily National Gazette charged that white Republicans generally held minor roles:

    One of the most noticeable features about the celebration yesterday, was that all the white men connected with the affair occupied inferior positions. Republicans had to do the "subbing," the colored citizens bossing the job.133

Morse ignored Rev. Parker's role as orator at the opening service. Among those occupying "inferior positions" at Nevada City was Felix Gillett, a French immigrant, abolitionist, and prominent California nurseryman who served on the organizing committee for the celebration.

The celebrations demonstrated that African Americans did not have to rely on their white sympathizers for leadership, although Morse implied that this was sham leadership, obtained because the white Republicans chose to stand aside and allow the blacks to lead temporarily.134 While the transitory nature of ministerial appointments meant that clergymen such as Hubbard, Ward and Gilliard would move on to churches in other states, black educators, editors and businessmen were established in their communities and provided an enduring influence in directing the local African American movement.

The reaction of the state's press to the celebrations usually reflected the party alignment of the local editor. Republican papers were for the most part enthusiastic and, in several instances, devoted great amounts of space to record the speeches delivered by the principal orators of the day. Even Democratic papers accorded local celebrations in their towns the courtesy of brief, although sometimes biting, accounts. When the final celebration in California took place on May 4 at Sonora135 it was favorably reported in the local Democratic paper, the Sonora Union Democrat, which observed that there was "a large audience of whites as well as sables."

    The speaker [Rev. S. B. Serrington] appeared to give general satisfaction, telling truths regarding miscegenation that were no more flattering to the white than his own race. He advised the newly made citizens to pay attention to educating their children, and to use all means to elevate themselves above the menial positions they have heretofore occupied. That they now fill a different place in the political world, that there is now some incentive for them to improve themselves. That they should branch out in the different vocations, try and accumulate means, which with education will enable them in the future to compete with the white race. He made some good hits against the Democratic party, and on closing advised all his race to vote the Republican ticket. The demonstration considering the number of colored persons in the county was all that could be expected, and was well conducted throughout.136

The Reporter's caustic remarks about the celebration, and particularly the oratory, in Sacramento were atypical. Since there was no celebration in Santa Rosa, the Sonoma Democrat's hometown, editor Robert Ferral had no opportunity to comment on local festivities, but he made clear his position on celebration orators in general:

    The negroes throughout the State generally celebrated on the strength of Hiram's [Revels] proclamation of the adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment.... The "culled" orators could not hold themselves, and so they soared aloft on wings of eloquence, and were lavish in their praises of Old Abe, and the murderer John Brown, who paid the penalty his crime deserved upon a scaffold. Some few Radicals, like Finney, of San Mateo, who have "axes to grind" in the future, also orated. Perhaps, Finney wants something higher than an Assemblyman's position, and therefore the necessity of being on the strong side. "Shoo fly, don't bodder me!137

- - -

During early April, as the first celebrations took place, African American euphoria over the apparent attainment of suffrage was tempered by a growing anxiety as county clerks from Los Angeles to the northern end of the state, pressured by the state attorney general, either refused to enroll blacks on their Great Registers or did so with great hesitancy. The struggle for the right to vote was not yet won.


[1] For Grant's proclamation see San Francisco Bulletin, April 6, 1870, p. 2; hereafter cited as Bulletin; San Francisco Alta California, April 7, 1870, p. 1; hereafter cited as Alta.

[2] James H. Hubbard, Orations Delivered on the Proclamation of Emancipation and the Fifteenth Amendment (San Francisco: Cuddy and Hughes, 1873), p. 48.

[3] Bulletin, April 5, 1870, p. 2.

[4] San Francisco Elevator, March 11, 1870, p. 2; hereafter cited as Elevator. San Francisco Chronicle, April 5, 1870, p. 2; hereafter cited as Chronicle. The Washington, D. C., New Era, March 17, 1870, p. 3, referred to the founding meeting as the National Convention of the Colored People of the Nation. The title of the convention's printed record is Proceedings of the National Convention of the Colored Men of America.

[5] Nevada City Daily Transcript, April 5, 1870, p. 3; hereafter cited as Transcript.

[6] National Executive Committee, as quoted in Elevator, March 11, 1870, p. 2. The Chronicle, April 5, 1870, p. 2, called it the National Executive Committee of Colored Men; the Grass Valley Daily Union, May 1, 1870, p. 2, referred to the National Executive Committee of Colored People. See Elmer R. Rusco, "Good Time Coming?" (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1975), pp. 110-111.

[7] Sacramento State Capital Reporter, May 4, 1870, p. 2; hereafter cited as Reporter. For its principal speaker, New York City invited Mississippi's Hiram Revels, who became the first black U. S. Senator when he took Jefferson Davis' former seat in Feb., 1870. Forrest Wood, Black Scare: The Racist Response to Emancipation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), p. 90; Stockton Independent, April 6, 1870, p. 2; Marysville Appeal, April 13, 1870, p. 2; hereafter cited as Appeal; Bulletin, April 18, 1870, p. 2; Alta, April 2, 1870, p. 1; April 10, 1870, p. 4; April 11, 1870, p. 1.

[8] Stockton Independent, May 13, 1870, p. 1.

[9] Sacramento Bee, May 20, 1870, p. 1; hereafter cited as Bee. For other celebrations outside the west, see Chronicle, April 2, 1870, p. 3; April 5, 1870, p. 2; Bulletin, April 1, 1870, pp. 1, 2; San Francisco Call, April 2, 1870, p. 1; April 13, 1870, p. 1; hereafter cited as Call; Elevator, April 22, 1870, p. 1; Sacramento Union, April 27, 1870, p. 1; hereafter cited as Union. Even the Lassen Sage Brush carried the Louisville item, albeit belatedly, on June 8, 1870, p. 2, as did the Shasta Courier, May 21, 1870, p. 2.

[10] Maryland Archives web site: David Troy, "Celebrating Rights and Responsibilities: Baltimore and the Fifteenth amendment, May 19, 1870" at

[11] William Gillette, The Right to Vote (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1965), p. 12; Maryland Archives web site.

[12] Bulletin, April 5, 1870, p. 3; Elevator, April 22, 1870, p. 1; Stockton Independent, April 6, 1870, p. 3.

[13] Chronicle, April 8, 1870, p. 3; Appeal, April 8, 1870, p. 3; Reporter, April 2, 1870, p. 3; April 14, 1870, p. 3; Bulletin, April 8, 1870, p. 3; Stockton Independent, April 2, 1870, p. 2; April 8, 1870, p. 2.

[14] Chronicle, April 14, 1870, p. 2; Reporter, April 14, 1870, p. 3.

[15] Elevator, April 15, 1870, p. 4.

[16] Bee, April 5, 1870, p. 2.

[17] Gillette, Right to Vote, p. 115 (for New York), pp. 131-139 (for Indiana); William Gillette, Retreat from Reconstruction: 1869-1879 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1979), p. 88 (for Georgia); Reporter, April 1, 1870, p. 2; Los Angeles Weekly Star, April 2, 1870, p. 4.

[18] In 1861 Californians were unaware of the fighting in Charleston harbor until several days after the opening battle of the Civil War. The importance of the telegraph in conveying news of the amendment's ratification to California was emphasized by Aaron L. Jackson, president of the Sacramento celebration, when he said: "We have learned to-day, by the dottings of the electric wire that stretches across the continent, that the last great battle of our political enthrallment has been fought...." Elevator, April 15, 1870, p. 3. Still, as noted below in the chapter on elections, the telegraph was not as informative as it might have been. Santa Clara Argus, April 2, 1870, p. 4.

[19] Grass Valley Daily Union, April 6, 1870, p. 3; ; Transcript, April 5, 1870, p. 3.

[20] Elevator, March 11, 1870, p. 2; March 18, 1870, p. 2; March 25, 1870, p. 2. Nebraska and Texas also ratified before the end of February, accounting for the salute of thirty guns in some celebrations. No other states ratified before the President's proclamation. Gillette, Right to Vote, pp. 84-85.

[21] Ninth Census - Vol. I, The Statistics of the Population of the United States (Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1872), p. 25.

[22] Its competition, the San Francisco Pacific Appeal, suspended publication from Sept., 1868, until Sept., 1870.

[23] Ninth Census - Vol. I, p. 15.

[24] Union, April 1, 1870, p. 3.

[25] Bee, April 2, 1870, p. 4; Reporter, April 2, 1870, p. 3; April 4, 1870, p. 3; Bulletin, April 4, 1870, p. 3. Newspaper coverage varied regarding the location of the "Union Boy" noontime salute, which may have taken place at the Capitol, on the levee, or possibly on a boat in the river.

[26] Bee, April 4, 1870, p. 3; Union, April 4, 1870, p. 3.

[27] Petaluma Journal & Argus, March 26, 1870, p. 2; hereafter cited as Journal.

[28] Ibid., April 2, 1870, p. 2.

[29] Ibid., April 9, 1870, p. 3. The Petaluma statement of principles was not published in any mainstream newspapers. While it might have been carried by the Elevator, copies of that paper for April 1 and 8, 1870, are missing.

[30] Union, April 2, 1870, p. 5; announced by an ad in the Bee, April 4, 1870, p. 2.

[31] Elevator, April 22, 1870, p. 3; Union, April 5, 1870, p. 3; Bulletin, April 6, 1870, p. 3.

[32] Elevator, April 15, 1870, p. 3. A brad-awl is a small, chisel-edged tool used for punching holes.

[33] Ibid., April 22, 1870, p. 2; Reporter, April 5, 1870, p. 3; April 6, 1870, p. 3.

[34] Elevator, April 15, 1870, p. 3; April 22, 1870, p. 3; Bee, April 6, 1870, p. 3. See also Union, April 6, 1870, p. 3.

[35] This paper changed its name in April, becoming simply the Reporter. It is referred to by that name in the text hereafter.

[36] Reporter, April 5, 1870, p. 3; April 6, 1870, p. 3.

[37] Sacramento Record, cited in the Bulletin, April 11, 1870, p. 1.

[38] Bee, April 6, 1870, p. 2.

[39] Bulletin, April 5, 1870, p. 2; Chronicle, April 6, 1870, p. 2. See detailed ad for the San Francisco celebration, listing participants and line of march, in Chronicle, April 5, 1870, p. 3. The Alta, April 6, 1870, p. 1, placed the number of marchers at 1,500.

[40] Elevator, March 11, 1870, p. 2.

[41] Bulletin, April 5, 1870, p. 3; April 6, 1870, p. 3; Chronicle, April 6, 1870, p. 3; Santa Cruz Sentinel, April 9, 1870, p. 3; Grass Valley Daily Union, April 10, 1870, p. 2; and Reporter, April 6, 1870, p. 3, also noted the San Francisco celebration. The Daily Union, April 10, 1870, p. 2: "Our lady correspondent" [Edith Arnold] reported on the San Francisco celebration with a favorable review of the oratory and procession, predicting from 1,000 to 1,200 black voters would register, nearly all voting Republican." The Bee noted that the Bulletin referred to the commemoration as "a splendid display," to which the Bee replied that that was also true of the Sacramento celebration. Bee, April 6, 1870, p. 2.

[42] Call, quoted in Red Bluff Independent, April 14, 1870, p. 2.

[43] Bulletin, April 5, 1870, p. 3.

[44] Chronicle, April 6, 1870, p. 3.

[45] Call, April 7, 1870, p. 2, noted that among the onlookers "a very few Northern men ... gave expression to sentiments not at all to their credit...."

[46] Chronicle, April 6, 1870, p. 3. The Chronicle also reported an incident on Mission street while the Bulletin reported one on Stockton street. Bulletin, April 5, 1870, p. 3.

[47] Chronicle, April 6, 1870, p. 3. The Chronicle reporter claimed it was his intervention that caused Marks to finally give permission.

[48] Appeal, April 10, 1870, p. 2.

[49] Bulletin, April 7, 1870, p. 3.

[50] Alta, April 6, 1870, p. 1.

[51] Bulletin, April 6, 1870, p. 3; April 13, 1870, p. 1; May 28, 1870, p. 3.

[52] Appeal, April 10, 1870, p. 2. William Gillette demonstrated that the effective voting strength of African American adult males elsewhere was roughly one-fifth of the total black population. Applying that rule to San Francisco, the amendment would have increased the electorate by no more than 300 votes, a figure that fell far short of most contemporary estimates and below the number reported in the Press. Gillette, Right to Vote, p. 105; Reporter, June 1, 1870, p. 2.

[53] Chronicle, April 6, 1870, p. 3; Bulletin, April 6, 1870, p. 3. Hillery also was principal speaker at the Napa celebration on April 12. Chronicle, April 12, 1870, p. 1; Bulletin, April 12, 1870, p. 3. The Elevator, April 15, 1870, p. 2, contains half of Hillery's speech.

[54] Bulletin, April 6, 1870, p. 3.

[55] Both quotations are from the Chronicle, April 6, 1870, p. 3.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Ibid. The Bulletin, April 6, 1870, p. 3, did not refer to Morgan's comments on social equality or amalgamation.

[58] Bulletin, April 6, 1870, p. 3. The Alta, April 6, 1870, p. 1, offered an extensive and favorable review of Anderson's speech.

[59] Chronicle, April 6, 1870, p. 3.

[60] Compendium of the Eleventh Census: 1890, Pt. I - Population (Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1892), p. 477.

[61] The principal report of the Los Angeles celebration ran in the Los Angeles Weekly Republican on April 14. No copy of that paper is extant today, but several papers in other parts of the state clipped the article and ran it in their columns. The Stockton Independent, April 21, 1870, p. 1, is the source used here. The Elevator, April 22, 1870, p. 3, carried an almost identical reprint but omitted a paragraph that the editor might have considered offensive and/or irrelevant.

[62] Los Angeles Weekly Star, April 16, 1870, p. 3; Elevator, April 22, 1870, p. 3.

[63] Robert Owens, who came to California in 1853, died in 1865. In 1856 his son Charles P. Owens, married Ellen Mason, the daughter of the city's most prominent and financially successful black woman, Biddy Mason. Charles Owens, who would be one of the first blacks to register in Los Angeles, died in 1882. Delilah Beasley, The Negro Trail Blazers of California (Los Angeles: Times Mirror Press, 1919), p. 110.

[64] James Abajian and John H. Dorsey, "Days of Celebration," in California History Series, Monograph No. 1 (September, 1965), p. 2.

[65] John W. Robinson, "Colonel Edward J. C. Kewen," Dogtown Territorial Quarterly (Summer, 1999), pp. 46-59; W. W. Robinson, Lawyers of Los Angeles (Los Angeles: Los Angeles Bar Association, 1959), p. 47.

[66] Los Angeles Weekly Star, April 16, 1870, p. 3.

[67] Los Angeles Weekly Republican, April 14, 1870, as quoted in the Stockton Independent, April 21, 1870, p. 1. In its next issue the Weekly Republican hastened to add that the candidate for state senate referred to above was Kewen, who withdrew from the campaign before the Democratic party's nominating convention. Weekly Republican, April 21, 1870, p. 3. None of the other Democrats present were ever identified by name.

[68] Smith would be among the first Los Angeles blacks to register.

[69] Gilliard was briefly prominent in 1870 as a popular lecturer who was in demand throughout the state. San Diego Bulletin, March 26, 1870, p. 3; Elevator, April 22, 1870, p. 2; May 5, 1870, p. 3; Bee, April 27, 1870, p. 2; San Jose Daily Independent, May 25, 1870, p. 4; May 27, 1870, p. 2. He has been overlooked by nearly all historians who have written about the California Afro-American community of the 1870s. Several papers incorrectly spelled his name Galliard, apparently adopting the misspelling that they found in the Associated Press dispatch recounting the celebration. His first name was rarely, if ever, given in the press. San Francisco County's Great Register, 1872, printed his first name, James, as required by state law.

[70] Los Angeles Weekly Republican, April 14, 1870, as reprinted in the Elevator, April 22, 1870, p. 3; Stockton Independent, April 21, 1870, p. 1.

[71] Bee, April 19, 1870, p. 2; Bulletin, April 18, 1870, p. 3; Call, April 19, 1870, p. 3; Stockton Independent, April 19, 1870, p. 3.

[72] Bee, April 19, 1870, p. 2. Inasmuch as black registration in the entire state barely reached 1,000, the vote in the First District could not have exceeded a few hundred.

[73] Los Angeles Daily News, April 27, 1870, p. 2; hereafter cited as Daily News.

[74] Appeal, April 28, 1870, p. 2; reprinted in Daily News, April 27, 1870, p. 2 and Elevator, May 27, 1870, p. 4.

[75] A term once used to mean clown or buffoon.

[76] Daily News, April 29, 1870, p. 2.

[77] Los Angeles Weekly Republican, May 5, 1870, p. 2.

[78] Appeal, May 5, 1870, p. 2.

[79] Daily News, May 24, 1870, p. 3.

[80] A telegraphic dispatch printed in the Sacramento Union noted that the Republican San Francisco journalist "Frank Pixley's anti-Chinese and anti-negro splurge last night was even more violent than was reported, and has disgusted all the Republicans without apparently capturing the Democracy...." Union, May 16, 1870, p. 2. Pixley was usually more anti-Chinese than anti-Negro in his comments. See Gerald Stanley, "Frank Pixley and the Heathen Chinese," Phylon, vol. XI, No. 3 (1979), pp. 224-228

[81] Daily News, May 24, 1870, p. 3.

[82] Wood, Black Scare, p. 83.

[83] Ibid., p. 134.

[84] Journal, April 14, 1870, p. 2.

[85] Chronicle, April 20, 1870, p. 2; also reprinted in Bee, April 21, 1870, p. 1.

[86] Bee, April 27, 1870, p. 2; Reporter, April 27, 1870, p. 2. The Reporter had quoted the Radical Republican Philadelphia Morning Post to the effect that Revels was "not impressive," lacked elegance, possessed none of the charms of elocution, and "his emphasis, by misdirection, destroys the effect of his sentences." Reporter, April 25, 1870, p. 3.

[87] Appeal, May 6, 1870, p. 2.

[88] John Robinson, "Kewen," pp. 56-57.

[89] Call, April 8, 1870, p. 1.

[90] Nevada City Daily National Gazette, April 11, 1870, p. 2; hereafter cited as National Gazette. Also condemning the social equality displayed at the San Jose celebration was the Democratic Santa Clara Argus in a series of articles: April 9, 1870, p. 2; April 16, 1870, p. 2.

[91] Sonoma Democrat, May 7, 1870, p. 4. "Shoo Fly, Don't Bodder Me!," used by the editor above, was a catch phrase of the era frequently associated with the movement to ratify the amendment. Harper's Weekly, March 12, 1870, featured a cartoon entitled "XV Amendment" carrying the caption "Shoo Fly! Don't Bodder Me!" The cartoon depicted a black man casting his ballot while a swarm of flies, representing a handful of states that had either rejected the amendment or had rescinded ratification, buzzed around the voter's head. One of the "flies" was labeled "California." A popular song, probably of Pennsylvania Dutch origin, "Shoo Fly" swept the country after the Civil War.

[92] Reporter, April 13, 1870, p. 3. The reference was to the J. J. Owen family.

[93] Chronicle, April 9, 1870, p. 3.

[94] Red Bluff Independent, April 28, 1870, p. 3. The Chico Northern Enterprise, May 14, 1870, p. 1, also reported the Tehama celebration.

[95] Vallejo Chronicle, quoted in Daily News, April 30, 1870, p. 2. The Daily News wondered why the paper chose not to name the Democrats who participated. The "neighboring town" was not identified, but the Alta, May 6, 1870, p. 2, reported that Napa had a racially-mixed ball.

[96] Sonoma Democrat, May 7, 1870, p. 4.

[97] National Gazette, April 5, 1870, p. 2. See also Chronicle, April 5, 1870, p. 2; Alta, April 3, 1870, p. 1; San Luis Obispo Tribune, April 23, 1870, p. 2. These last three were Republican papers.

[98] National Gazette, April 12, 1870, p. 3.

[99] Grass Valley Daily Union, April 5, 1870, p. 2; Transcript, April 3, 1870, p. 2.

[100] Grass Valley Daily Union, April 6, 1870, p. 3; April 7, 1870, p. 3. Those county clerks who were reluctant to register African Americans would cite this lack of official notice as their excuse for non-registration.

[101] Transcript, April 13, 1870, p. 3.

[102] Grass Valley Daily Union, April 13, 1870, p. 3; National Gazette, April 12, 1870, p. 3.

[103] Transcript, April 3, 1870, p. 2.

[104] Ibid.,April 13, 1870, p. 3.

[105] Ibid., May 11, 1870, p. 2.

[106] Ibid., April 7, 1870, p. 3; April 12, 1870, p. 3; April 13, 1870, p. 3.

[107] Ibid., April 14, 1870, p. 3.

[108] Ibid., April 13, 1870, p. 3; reprinted in Appeal, April 14, 1870, p. 2.

[109] Grass Valley Daily Union, April 14, 1870, p. 3.

[110] Ibid., April 10, 1870, p. 3; Appeal, April 8, 1870, p. 3; Transcript, April 13, 1870, p. 3; May 11, 1870, p. 1; Red Bluff Independent, May 5, 1870, p. 3. The Call lauded "the Rev. J. H. Hubbard (colored)" for his "very eloquent address" at Marysville but noted the audience was mostly white. Call, April 8, 1870, p. 4.

[111] Transcript, May 11, 1870, p. 1; Red Bluff Independent, May 5, 1870, p. 3.

[112] Hubbard, Orations, pp. 35-45. Hubbard also spoke at an African American picnic in Oroville on May 12. Oroville Weekly Butte Record, May 14, 1870, p. 3. While most papers identified Hubbard only by his initials, the Appeal, April 10, 1870, p. 3, printed his first name, James.

[113] Horace Talbert, The Sons of Allen (Xenia, Ohio: Aldine Press, 1906), pp. 144-145, electronic edition:; Richard R. Wright, Centennial Encyclopaedia of the American Methodist Episcopal Church (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina, 2001), p. 10, electronic edition:

[114] Henley made his speech in the Assembly, Jan. 18, 1870. For a verbatim copy, see Reporter, Jan 25, 1870, p. 1.

[115] Hubbard, Orations, pp. 40-41; Transcript, May 11, 1870, pp. 1, 4, for the speech as given in Nevada City. Despite the great amount of criticism bestowed on Henley, primarily because of his reference to the brad-awl, his political career continued and in 1884 he won election to Congress, the only California Democrat in the Congressional delegation. R. Hal Williams, The Democratic Party and California Politics: 1880-1896 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1973), pp. 55-56.

[116] The full text of the speeches was not printed immediately, but was delayed for nearly a month. Transcript, May 7, 1870, pp. 1, 2, 4.

[117] Grass Valley Daily Union, April 13, 1870, p. 3.

[118] Ibid., April 14, 1870, p. 3.

[119] Appeal, April 8, 1870, p. 3.

[120] Grass Valley Daily Union, April 12, 1870, p. 3.

[121] Appeal, April 3, 1870, p. 3; April 6, 1870, p. 3; April 10, 1870, p. 3; Bulletin, April 6, 1870, p. 3; April 8, 1870, p. 3;, April 11, 1870, pp. 1, 3; Call, April 3, 1870, p. 3; April 6, 1870, p. 3; April 12, 1870, p. 3; April 15, 1870, p. 3; Oroville Weekly Butte Record, April 9, 1870, p. 3; Union, April 6, 1870, p. 2; April 15, 1870, p. 2; Chronicle, April 12, 1870, p. 1; Reporter, April 6, 1870, p. 3; April 15, 1870, p. 3; Journal, April 2, 1870, p. 3. The Elevator, April 22, 1870, p. 2, published reports of numerous celebrations in various California cities. Colusa Sun, April 23, 1870, p. 2, reprinted an article from the Santa Clara Argus regarding the San Jose celebration.

[122] Oroville Weekly Butte Record, April 8, 1870, p. 3; Appeal, April 10, 1870, p. 3; Bulletin, April 5, 1870, p. 3; April 6, 1870, p. 3.

[123] Bulletin, April 11, 1870, p. 1, citing the Santa Cruz Times.

[124] Stockton Independent, April 15, 1870, p. 3. Sanderson was a prominent black educator.

[125] Ibid., April 9, 1870, p. 3.

[126] Bulletin, April 8, 1870, p. 3; Call, April 10, 1870, p. 3; Grass Valley Daily Union, April 7, 1870, p. 2.

[127] Appeal, April 8, 1870, p. 3. Ratification required approval by three-fourths, not two-thirds, of the states.

[128] Red Bluff Independent, May 5, 1870, p. 3.

[129] Stockton Independent, April 13, 1870, p. 3; Bee, April 6, 1870, p. 3; Sonora Union Democrat, May 7, 1870, p. 2; Call, April 15, 1870, p. 3.

[130] Reporter, April 5, 1870, p. 3; Appeal, April 8, 1870, p. 3.

[131] Journal, June 25, 1870, p. 3.

[132] Appeal, April 7, 1870, p. 3; April 9, 1870, p. 2; Bulletin, April 9, 1870, p. 5; Call, April 10, 1870, p. 3.

[133] National Gazette, April 13, 1870, p. 3. "Subbing" meant that one held a subordinate, or inferior, position.

[134] Ibid., April 13, 1870, p. 3.

[135] Stockton Independent, April 28, 1870, p. 1, announced the forthcoming celebration.

[136] Sonora Union Democrat, May 7, 1870, p. 2.

[137] Sonoma Democrat, April 16, 1870, p. 5.