SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — The city of Santa Barbara has taken a historic step to recognize the rich history of its black community.
The city’s Historic Landmarks Commission finalized its African American and Black Historical Context Statement this month, highlighting contributions and buildings of historical significance 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 dedicated to historic preservation since 1973. Healing Justice Santa Barbara is a Black-led, Black-centered collective of organizations in Santa County Barbara.
In 2020, community members advocated for historic designation of sites significant to the history of Santa Barbara’s African American and Black community.
The background statement examines the historical overview of Santa Barbara and its African American and Black community since approximately the 16e century until 1980.
Nicole Hernandez, the town historian, says it’s important to understand everyone’s story and the contributions they’ve made to the community.
“It was really important to talk about African American contributions because they weren’t really told in a concise place that identified at the end what buildings were important to them,” Hernandez said.
The document explains how African American and Black communities developed in the early 20e century and after World War II.
Two churches, St. Paul’s AME Church and Mount Olive Baptist Church (Second Baptist Church) formed not only the heart of religious life but also the social life of the African and black community.
The document also highlights the racism and discrimination faced by the black community in Santa Barbara.
During a presentation to the Historic Monuments Commission, Hernandez showed a photo of a cross and the letters “KKK” written on a hill in the Riviera.
Hernandez also showed slides of a newspaper photo from a celebration on June 19, 1940, long before it was declared a federal holiday, as well as a photo of Bill Downey conducting an interview for his three-part series in the Santa Barbara News-Press entitled “A Negro Regarde Santa Barbara”. Downey was the first black reporter hired at the Santa Barbara News-Press according to Hernandez.
The city plans to designate buildings of historical significance in this document to help preserve them. Hernandez said new buildings will be added to the document as they are identified.
“And the story never ends, and the stories don’t all get told. So as more stories come out and we continue in the story, we can add to the document right now that ‘It sort of ends in 1980 so that we find out more of the things that happened in the 1980s, we can add them to it and make sure those events and buildings are recognized as well,’ Hernandez said.
Federal funds from the National Park Service, Department of the Interior, through the California Office of Historic Preservation helped fund this project.