By Williamena Kwapo | OBSERVER Staff Writer
Sacramento’s City Council unanimously approved the final draft of the African American Historical Project Context Statement Tuesday, officially documenting over 150 years of African American history and contributions to the city of Sacramento.
The project was made possible by a $50,000 grant from the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund with a goal of documenting under-told stories of Black Americans in the U.S. and their impact in building and sustaining the country.
Sacramento received the grant in 2021 and immediately began efforts to document its Black history. The efforts included multiple community meetings, genealogy workshops, and one-on-one oral interviews.
Sean de Courcy, current preservation director, spearheaded the efforts alongside former director Carson Anderson. Together, they presented the findings to the city council during this week’s meeting.
“We had been working on identifying significant places for African Americans in Sacramento for about five years,” de Courcy said. “Getting this grant and doing the historic context is a more holistic look at the history.”
The 182-page document includes both written and oral historical statements chronicling the lives and experiences of African Americans in Sacramento from 1839-1980. Included in the context statement are historical facts about African American migration and settlement in Sacramento, civic engagement and activism, as well as arts, culture and recreation.
“I was really pleasantly surprised to learn how many prominent people grew up here in Sacramento and went on to careers in entertainment and the arts,” Anderson said. “It’s a very impressive assortment of individuals.”
Partnering with Sacramento State, the project identified more than 50 potentially historic properties of Black Sacramentans including sites like Shiloh Baptist Church, one of the oldest Black congregations on the West Coast. It also includes more than 40 oral histories that will be housed at the Center for Sacramento History and Sojourner Truth Museum.
The oral history portion of the context statement was submitted by members of the community which both de Coursey and Anderson say would not have been possible without the endless work of volunteers.
An additional $10,000 was provided by Preservation Sacramento and used to provide stipends to community members who dedicated time to the completion of the project. One recipient of the stipend was Deacon Dante Fontenot of Shiloh Baptist Church.
“I am in support of this African American history project,” Fontenot said during the council meeting. “I stand here with joy in my heart.”
During public comments, City of Sacramento Community Engagement Manager Lynette Hall, who played a pivotal role in hosting community meetings, spoke about the level of participation in the project during public comments.
“We had folks well into their 90s and almost 100 years old participate,” Hall said.
The project also garnered immense support from multiple city council members who also spoke to the importance of documenting African American history in Sacramento.
“We know that this project is not only for today. But it’s a project that will educate for years to come,” said District 7 councilmember Rick Jennings.
The project is available on the African American Experience Project website. Hard copies will soon be made available in local libraries, Center for Sacramento History, and Sojourner Truth Museum.
According to de Coursy and Anderson, future projects will include more family genealogy workshops, continued oral history, documentation of historical landmarks, and creation of school curriculum.