Los Angeles Times

Keeping Biddy’s legacy alive

Dozens toast 200th birthday of Bridget Mason, slave turned L.A. entreprene­ur.

- By Michael Livingston michael.livingston@latimes.com Twitter: @MLivingsto­n06

Cheryl Cox remembers as a child standing in front of the wall honoring her greatgreat-great-great-grandmothe­r Biddy Mason, a former slave who became a wealthy landowner, a noted philanthro­pist and a key founder of the first African American Church in Los Angeles.

On Saturday morning, Alicia Randall, an Altadena Girl Scout, stood in almost the same spot that Cox did to help place a purple wreath next to the wall to mark Mason’s bicentenni­al birthday celebratio­n.

Several dozen people attended Saturday’s event at Biddy Mason Memorial Park at 311 Spring St., the site of her former home. It was organized by the Biddy Mason Charitable Foundation and Truth, Racial Healing & Transforma­tion of Los Angeles.

Often, pedestrian­s walk past the downtown park without reading the history of its famous namesake. On Saturday, people stopped to partake in the celebratio­n and to learn more about Mason.

Cox, her sister Robynn Cox, and Robynn’s two children Daniel and Dakota are the last living descendant­s of Mason, whose philanthro­py included building an orphanage, a school and cofounding the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles.

“It’s always good to see that people are still honoring and supporting her legacy,” said Cox, who cofounded the Biddy Mason Foundation with her mother, Linda Spikes Brown. Their organizati­on is not affiliated with the Biddy Mason Charitable Foundation.

The park also includes an 81-foot long concrete wall with a timeline detailing Mason’s history in Los Angeles, a collage reminiscen­t of Mason’s original wood-frame home by sculptor and assemblage artist Betye Saar and a fountain.

“There is power in rememberin­g who our predecesso­rs are and keeping their memory alive,” said Sonny Abegaze, director of Truth, Racial Healing & Transforma­tion Los Angeles. “Biddy Mason was a philanthro­pist before that was a concept. That strength is something we can pull from and rely on.”

“It is our pleasure to be here, and it is our responsibi­lity as well,” added Jackie Broxton, vice president of the Biddy Mason Charitable Foundation’s board of directors. “A squeaky wheel gets all the noise. We need to make people aware of her legacy.”

The Biddy Mason Charitable Foundation continues her legacy by dedicating itself to the care of foster youth. The nonprofit organizati­on provides clothing, toiletries, food and other supplies for foster children.

The organizati­on was inspired by the orphanage Mason opened on property she owned. Because of Mason’s philanthro­pic work, Broxton feels it is her duty to stay connected with her history.

“As an African American, we can only go back so far in our ancestry. I don’t think others understand how disconnect­ed we are from knowing where we’re from,” Broxton said.

Broxton and other members of the charitable foundation handed out posters and cards with the history about Mason’s life.

Bridget “Biddy” Mason was born into slavery on Aug. 15, 1818, in Hancock County, Ga. She was sold multiple times, eventually landing in Mississipp­i on the plantation of Robert and Rebecca Smith in 1836.

After Robert Smith joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the 1840s, he moved his family and 14 slaves from Mississipp­i to Salt Lake City, then to San Bernardino to join a larger Mormon settlement.

Unbeknown to Smith, California was a free state. Smith hid his slaves and family until law enforcemen­t captured them. Mason and the other slaves were put in jail under protective custody.

She was eventually taken to see Judge Benjamin Hayes in his private chambers where she told him about their travels to California and Smith’s refusal to set them free. In January 1856, Smith testified that Mason and the other slaves were only traveling companions. The day after Smith testified, Hayes granted Mason her freedom.

With her freedom, Mason became a nurse and midwife, using the skills she learned as a slave. Some patients gave her land in payment for delivering their children. She also saved her money and invested in downtown real estate, including buying the property at 311 Spring St. that would become her home.

The Spring Street property was also where Mason and others establishe­d the First A.M.E Church, the oldest African American church in the city. The initial meetings were held in Mason’s home.

It’s Mason’s drive and achievemen­ts that make her worth rememberin­g centuries later.

“More people in Los Angeles should know her story,” Abegaze said.

“Biddy Mason and her life is a story of inspiratio­n,” Broxton said. “For her to overcome the obstacles in her path is almost unbelievab­le.”

 ?? Irfan Khan Los Angeles Times ?? AMANDA GORMAN, 20, recites a poem to honor Biddy Mason at a bicentenni­al birthday event at Mason’s namesake park downtown
Irfan Khan Los Angeles Times AMANDA GORMAN, 20, recites a poem to honor Biddy Mason at a bicentenni­al birthday event at Mason’s namesake park downtown

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States