Young Girl Was the Last Slave in California Until a Pioneering Black Church Leader Successfully Sued for Her Freedom

Daniel Blue, who took action to free the last known slave in California, was one of the founders of the St. Andrews African Methodist Episcopal Church, the state’s first Black church, shown here at its original site on 7th Street in downtown Sacramento in 1938. (California State Library)

A full year after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, a Sacramento County farmer attempted to buy an enslaved girl who’d been trafficked to California. He kept her until a pioneering Black entrepreneur and church leader successfully sued for her freedom.

That 1863 tale of California’s last enslaved person is highlighted in a new investigation by the state’s reparations task force, which documented over 160 years of harm to Black communities caused by enslavement and discriminatory policies.

The nearly 500-page investigation details how racist policies affect health, education and wealth today as the task force members make a case for the state to provide different kinds of reparations.

It also shows the efforts of Black communities over time to push for their rights and fight injustices.

And that’s where Edith, the 13-year-old from Missouri who was sold into enslavement in California two years after the beginning of the Civil War comes in.

She was illegally purchased by a white man named Walter Gammon, and believed by witnesses to have been beaten and not cared for, according to Gold Chains: The Hidden History of Slavery in California, a research project by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.

A free Black man named Daniel Blue, who lived near Gammon, was one of the witnesses who noticed the inhumane conditions that Edith was being forced to live under.

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SOURCE: The Sacramento Bee, Marcus D. Smith