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Santa Barbara Historical Landmark Commission finalized African-American and Black Historic Context Statement

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – The city of Santa Barbara took a historic step to recognize the rich history of its Black community.

The city's Historical Landmarks Commission finalized its African-American and Black Historic Context Statement this month, highlighting the contributions and historically significant buildings to the local Black community.

The city worked with Healing Justice Santa Barbara and Page & Turnbull to prepare this statement. Page & Turnbull is a San Francisco-based architecture and planning firm that is dedicated to historic preservation since 1973. Healing Justice Santa Barbara is a Black-led and Black-centered organization collective in Santa Barbara County. 

In 2020, community members advocated for the historic designation of sites important to Santa Barbara's African American and Black community's history. 

The Context Statement looks at the historical overview of Santa Barbara and its African American and Black community from roughly the 16th century up to 1980.

Nicole Hernandez, the city's historian, says it is important to understand everybody's history and the contributions they made to the community.

"It was really important to talk about the African-American contributions because they hadn't been really told in one concise place that identified at the end what buildings were important to them," said Hernandez.

The document explains how the African American and black communities grew in the early 20th century and after World War II. 

Two churches, St. Paul's A.M.E. Church and Mount Olive Baptist Church (Second Baptist Church) formed not only the heart of the religious life but also the social life of the African and Black community.

The document also sheds light on the racism and discrimination that the Black community has faced in Santa Barbara.

During a presentation to the Historical Landmarks Commission, Hernandez showed a photo of a cross and the letters "KKK" written on a hill on the Riviera.

Hernandez also showed slides of a newspaper photo of a 1940 Juneteenth celebration, long before it was declared a federal holiday, and also a photo of Bill Downey conducting an interview for his three-part series in the Santa Barbara News-Press called "A Negro Looks at Santa Barbara". Downey was the first black reporter hired at the Santa Barbara News-Press according to Hernandez. 

The city plans to designate the historically significant buildings in this document to help preserve them. Hernandez said new buildings will be added to the document as they are identified. 

"And history never ends, and stories are not all told. So as more stories come out and we go on in history, we can add to the document right now it sort of ends at 1980 so as we find out more things that happened in the 1980s, we can add them to it and make sure that those events and buildings are recognized as well," said Hernandez. 

Federal funds from the National Park Service, Department of the Interior, through the California Office of Historic Preservation helped finance this project. 

Article Topic Follows: Santa Barbara - South County
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Jade Martinez-Pogue

Jade Martinez-Pogue is the Assignment Editor and web journalist at News Channel 3-12. To learn more about Jade, click here

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