The Archaeology of the Allensworth Hotel: Negotiating the System in Jim Crow America

Allensworth, California stands as an example of a larger social and economic movement to build African American town-sites, a movement that took place across the United States following the Civil War. Racial discrimination enabled the existence of these intentional communities at a time when the constitutional rights of African Americans had been granted and acknowledged by the courts through the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution. At the height of the "Jim Crow" era, between 1890 and 1910, Southern states passed the bulk of discriminatory laws that segregated the races and reinforced the white supremacist attitudes engulfing many segments of the country. It was also the second period of intense migration out of the South to the Western states. In California, Jim Crow laws that segregated schools and public accommodations, prohibited interracial marriages, and restricted voting rights were in place by 1908, when Allensworth was founded. By positioning the development of the African American town of Allensworth within the political and social structure of the United States during the Jim Crow era, a distinctive relationship emerges. Lieutenant Colonel Allen Allensworth, an exslave from Kentucky, founded Allensworth, California on the foundation of two distinct nationalist political ideologies: social accommodation and cultural pluralism. These positions manifested out of opposition to racial oppression as buffers and as viable solutions to combating discrimination. In providing the sociopolitical context for this type of community, the material culture study of the Allensworth Hotel introduces a new inquiry for interpretation of qualitative data that informs African American sites. An analysis of the artifacts excavated from the hotel site suggests that the African American political movements, beset with legalized discrimination, influenced the actions of the Allensworth pioneers negotiating the constructs of the Jim Crow era. This research further strengthens the purpose of Allensworth as a California State Historic Park, to recognize the contributions African Americans have made to the development of California.