In American lore, California is Eden, a land of unending sunshine, long coastlines, and rich harvests. But in her new book California, A Slave State, Professor Jean Pfaelzer shows that, since the very first colonizers crossed the border, the Golden State was and still is powered by slavery—a piece of American history that many still try to bury.
This once-shrouded history spans three centuries of diverse types of slavery and slave revolts. Spanish invaders captured Indigenous people to build the chain of Catholic missions. Russian otter hunters shipped Alaska Natives—the first slaves transported into California—and launched a Pacific slave triangle—Alaska, California, China. Plantation slaves were marched across the plains for the Gold Rush. Chain gangs supplied convict labor and San Quentin Prison incubated California’s carceral state. Kidnapped Chinese girls were shipped across the Pacific, and sold in caged brothels to lonely settlers who flooded the state to capture their fortune in gold and land. Indian boarding schools forced children to work in California’s new farms and hotels.
Jean Pfaelzer will share with us the untold history of California as a state that was built on slavery, upending our understanding of race in the West and redefining America’s uneasy paths to freedom.
Jean Pfaelzer is a public historian, commentator, and professor of American studies at the University of Delaware. Her books include Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans; Rebecca Harding Davis: Origins of Social Realism; and The Utopian Novel in America. She lives in Washington, DC.
Host Village: Northwest Neighbors Village
Limited to 100.
Registration is required by September 25, 2023.
Zoom link will be sent to registrants the day before.