Black History Month: Notable California African AmericansLoading

    Karen Bass

    In 2008 Bass became the first African American female Speaker of the California Assembly. She was also the nation's first black woman to serve as speaker in a state legislature. 2008 Bee photograph.
    Brian Baer | Sacramento Bee Staff Photo
  • Dorothy and Michael Benjamin

    The Benjamins founded the first African American theater in the area -- Sacramento Repertory Theatre -- in the 1970s. Michael served as instructor of technical theater and black drama at Sacramento City College from 1972 to 1995. He currently teaches stagecraft part-time at Sacramento State. Dorothy helped start Black Culture Day at the California State Fair in the early '80s. She also led the effort to establish the local Martin Luther King Jr. March in 1987. In the 1970s they operated the downtown Capitol Infant Toddler Center, which became the current nonprofit Rainbow Day Care. The Benjamins continue to be active in community organizations. 2012 family photo.
    Courtesy Benjamin Family

    Tom Bradley

    Serving five terms, Bradley was the first African American to be elected Mayor of Los Angeles (1973-1993). He unsuccessfully ran for Governor in 1982 and 1986. 1991 AP Photo
    NICK UT | AP

    Janice Rogers Brown

    In 1997 Brown became in the first African American woman to be appointed to the California Supreme Court. In 2005 she began serving as a judge on the District of Columbia Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. 2003 AP Photo
  • Newsom

    Willie Brown

    Brown was California's first African American Assembly Speaker and San Francisco's first African American Mayor. Because of his long tenure, political connections and acumen, he wielded considerable power over the legislature. 2011 Sacramento Bee photograph
    Hector Amezcua | Bee file, 2011
  • Yvonne Brathwaite Burke

    In 1973 Burke became the first African American woman to represent the West Coast in the U.S. House of Representatives. Prior to that she served in the California State Assembly from 1967-73. 1978 Sacramento Bee photo
    Dick Schmidt
  • Sharon Cadogan

    In 2004 Cadogan became the first African American female captain of the Sacramento Sheriff's Department. She also was appointed the first African American female sergeant in that department in 1994. 2006 Bee photograph.
    Michael A. Jones | Sacramento Bee Staff Photo
  • Ray Charles

    In 1986 Charles was appointed Sacramento's first African American Fire Chief.

    Nathaniel Colley

    Colley was one of Sacramento's first African American attorneys. He served for two decades as the NAACP's regional counsel and chairman of its National Legal Committee. He sued successfully to open up housing for African Americans in Sacramento. Undated Bee file photograph.
  • Angela Davis

    Davis, political activist, writer and scholar, was a prominent and controversial figure in civil rights, feminist and prison reform movements in California. In 1969 Gov. Ronald Reagan attempted to bar Davis from teaching in state universities because of her membership in the Communist Party. Sept. 9, 1972 AP Photo.
    AP Photo
  • Cottrell Laurence "C. L." Dellums

    Dellums was one of the organizers and leaders of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. He was elected that union's President in 1966. (1983 Sacramento Bee photo)
    Dick Schmidt

    Ron Dellums

    Dellums was elected Oakland's third African American Mayor, 2007-2011. Prior to that he served 13 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, 1971-1998, where he was an outspoken advocate for peace and social justice. In the 1970s and 80s Dellums led the effort in Congress to end apartheid in South Africa. 2008 Sacramento Bee photograph.
    Brian Baer |
  • Mervyn Dymally

    In 1966 Dymally became the first African American elected to the California State Senate. In 1974 he was elected Lt. Governor. In 1980 he ran for the U.S. House district representing south Los Angeles County. 2006 Sacramento Bee photograph
    Anne Chadwick Williams | Sacramento Bee Staff Photo
  • California Cybercrime

    Kamala Harris

    In 2010 Harris was elected the first female African-American and Asian American Attorney General in California.
    Paul Sakuma | AP
  • ME.1112.Obit.Hawkins.2

    Augustus F. Hawkins

    Hawkins became the first African American from California to be elected to Congress (1963-1991) . He was a champion of workers, cheap housing and civil rights issues. Undated Los Angeles Times photograph.
    File photo | Los Angeles Times
  • Soccer field to be named after Grantland Johnson

    Grantland Johnson

    In 1986 Johnson became the first African American elected to the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors. In 1999 he was appointed the state's Secretary of Health and Human Services.
    Autumn Cruz |
  • Mary Kight

    In 2010 Mary Kight became the first woman to become Adjutant General of the California National Guard and the first African American female to lead any state's national guard.
    California National Guard,
  • Archy Lee

    Lee was a Mississippi slave brought to California by his owner Charles Stovall in 1857. In a landmark legal case, Lee fought successfully in court to secure his freedom after Stovall attempted to take Lee back to the South in 1858.
  • William Lee

    Lee (r) co-founded the Sacramento Observer in 1962. Over the years, the African American newspaper has earned over 500 honors and awards. Pictured with Lee is his son Larry Lee who has taken over as publisher. 2000 Sacramento Bee photograph.
    RANDY PENCH | Sacramento Bee Staff Photo
  • William Alexander Leidesdorff

    Leidesdorff was a debonair seafarer who became a business and civic leader in San Francisco before owning 35,000 acres in what is now Rancho Cordova and Folsom.
    Folsom History Museum
  • Wiley W. Manuel

    Wiley was appointed the first African American justice of the California Supreme Court in 1977.
    Sacramento Bee
  • Mary Ellen Pleasant

    Pleasant was a former slave who became a millionaire entrepreneur, abolitionist and conductor in the "Underground Railroad". She earned the honor "Mother of the Civil Rights in California" for her efforts to end racial discrimination in San Francisco in the 1860s.

    Wilson Riles

    In 1971 Riles became the first black statewide elected official, serving three terms as California Superintendent of Public Instruction.
    FILE | AP
  • Frederick Madison Roberts

    Roberts was a newspaper editor, educator and businessman who became the first African American elected to the California State Assembly in 1918.
  • Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton

    Seale and Newton co-founded the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in Oakland in 1966. The left-wing group gained world-wide notoriety for its militant stance on civil rights and economic justice. 1968 Black Panther Party poster.
To celebrate Black History Month here's a gallery of notable California African Americans. We know this list is incomplete and would like to hear your suggestions. Send your nomination (plus a brief justification for inclusion) to Bee news researcher Pete Basofin. Check out local Black History doings in Z-Events, The Bee's events calendar.
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