Allen Allensworth was looking for a place to establish a town outside the Jim Crow South, a town where African Americans could own property and pursue their economic potential.
Allensworth was born into slavery in 1842. While still a youth he was punished for learning to read and write, illegal for those in his situation. During the Civil War he escaped and made his way behind Union lines. He signed on as a civilian nurse with the Army Hospital Corps. He then served in the U.S. Navy from 1863-1865. After the war, Allensworth was ordained a Baptist Minister. He later became an Army chaplain. He retired from the service as a lieutenant colonel, the highest rank of an African American in the U.S. Armed Forces to that time.
The Allensworth family settled in Pasadena California. Allen joined with four others to establish what was then called a race colony. They founded their town in 1908 on the western edge of the San Joaquin Valley, aka Central Valley, a region that still today is sometimes less than welcoming to minorities. They called their new town Solito, later changed to the eponymous “Allensworth” in honor of its most prominent citizen.
A school district was formed in 1912. Two years later the state sanctioned a judicial district and a post office opened. Unfortunately, Allen Allensworth was run over and killed by a motorcycle while on a visit to Los Angeles in 1914.
The town continued to thrive, serving the growing agricultural activity surrounding it. It reached its peak in 1925. That’s when water shortages began. Pacific Farming Company, the land development company that handled the original purchase, failed to deliver the promised irrigation water in sufficient amounts. Legal battles with Pacific Farming drained the municipal coffers and lack of water resulted in farmers moving away. By 1930, the population had dropped below 300.
Today, Allensworth is mostly remembered by a state park on Highway 43, between Bakersfield and Fresno. Huge corporate farms now dominate and the Westland Water District exercises its political muscle – this is the region that gave us House Reps Devin Nunes and Kevin McCarthy – to get water from other parts of the state delivered to them at taxpayer expense.