African Americans in California
California African American Museum, Los Angeles
Total population
July 2022:
c. 2.5 million, not including partially African American individuals (6.5%)[1][2]
Regions with significant populations
Bakersfield and Fresno region • Greater Los Angeles (especially South Los Angeles, the South Bay, Compton, Inglewood and Moreno Valley) • Southeast San DiegoSan Francisco Bay Area (esp. the East Bay, the Fillmore District and southern San Francisco) • Sacramento ValleyStockton area • San Jose
California English, African-American Vernacular English;,[3] African languages, Caribbean languages spoken by the black Caribbean minority, Mexican Spanish, Jamaican Patois, Haitian Creole, Amharic, Ethiopian languages, Spanglish and Spanish spoken by Black Hispanics, Louisiana Creole
Christianity, Irreligion,[4] some practice Islam, Judaism, Haitian Voodoo, Louisiana Voodoo, Rastafari and Traditional African religions
Related ethnic groups
Non-Hispanic or Latino African Americans, , West Indian Americans, Black Hispanic and Latino Americans, Afro-Mexicans, Blaxicans in California, Blasians in California, African immigrants in California, Jamaicans in California, Ethiopians in California, Eritrean Americans, Haitian Americans, Jamaican Americans, South African Americans, Afro-Puerto Ricans
Pío Pico who was California's last governor under Mexican rule, was of mixed Spanish, Native American, and African descent
Pío Pico, California's last governor under Mexican rule, was of mixed Spanish, Native American, and African descent
Juana Briones de Miranda, the "founding mother of San Francisco", was of mixed race with African ancestry
Juana Briones de Miranda, the "founding mother of San Francisco", was of mixed race with African ancestry
"Ex-Service Men's Club" (1940), Sunset District in East Bakersfield, Kern County, California
"Ex-Service Men's Club" (1940), an African-American bar in Sunset District in East Bakersfield, Kern County, California
African American worker Richmond Shipyards (April 1943)
African American worker Richmond Shipyards (April 1943)
Your Black Muslim Bakery #1, formerly on San Pablo Avenue in Oakland
Your Black Muslim Bakery #1, formerly in Oakland

African American Californians, or Black Californians are residents of the state of California who are of African ancestry. According to 2019 United States Census Bureau estimates, those identified solely as African American or black constituted 5.8% or 2,282,144 residents in California. Including an additional 1.2% who identified as having partial African ancestry, the figure was 7.0% (2.8 million residents).[5][6] As of 2021, California has the largest multiracial African American population by number in the United States.[7] African Americans are the fourth largest ethnic group in California after Hispanics, white people, and Asians. Asians outnumbered African Americans in the 1980s.[8]

The Black community is prevalent in Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, and Solano Counties in the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento County, and San Joaquin County. In Southern California, the population is concentrated in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and San Diego Counties.[9][better source needed]

California also has a growing Afro-Caribbean and African immigrant population to the United States. Most African immigrants in California come from Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. Many Ethiopians live in Little Ethiopia in West Los Angeles. California has one of the highest concentrations of black Africans in the Western United States. 41,249 Afro-Asians live in California.[10] There is a Blaxican community in California.[11] There is also a growing Blaxican population in Los Angeles.[12] California claimed 113,255 African-born residents in 2000. The majority came from Ethiopia, Nigeria, and South Africa.[13] There is also a sizable Jamaican, Haitian, Caribbean, Afro-Latino, and Belizean population in California.[14] There is also a small Bahamian, Barbadian, Bermudan, British West Indian, Dutch West Indian, and Trinidadian population in California.[14]

The earliest black residents were the first pioneers of Alta California and were Afro-Latino slaves (or mulatto) brought by the Spanish.[15][16] African Americans (and Louisiana Creole) migrated from Southern states like Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas to California during the Second Great Migration (1940s–1970s).[17][18]

The Black population in California has been declining since 2016, and moving out of the state along with Whites.[19] Gentrification in California has caused some African Americans in California to become homeless and has pushed them out of historical urban centers like Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles, and into new cheaper suburban regions, like East Contra Costa, Inland Empire, and Central Valley.[20] For example, many blacks from Los Angeles have moved to desert areas such as Palmdale and Lancaster in the 1990s. The black population in Los Angeles County has been rapidly declining.[21] The black population has also declined in San Francisco.[22] African Americans have the second highest poverty rate in California, after Hispanics.[23] This has caused many blacks from California to move back to the Southern United States.[24]

The black population has decreased in many neighborhoods and cities in California. Many areas such as Compton, Inglewood, and Watts that were once predominately black are now predominately Latino. Many Mexicans and Central Americans have displaced them in their historical areas.[25][26][27] In 2019, African Americans were more likely to become homeless in California.[28]

There is also a black foreign born population from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean in California. 3% of black people in California are noncitizens, and 4% are naturalized immigrants. African Americans mainly live in Los Angeles, the East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento.[29] Solano County has the highest black percentage by county.[30] Cities with the largest black population in the San Francisco Bay Area are African Americans in the Bay Area are Oakland, Vallejo, Antioch, Suisun City and Richmond.[31]


18th century

See also: History of slavery in California

People of African descent first appeared in California from Mexico due to the Spanish Conquest.[32][33] Spanish soldiers, priests, and settlers brought black slaves and free blacks into the state in the 18th-century.[34] The settlers and escort soldiers who founded the towns of San José de Guadalupe (San Jose), Yerba Buena (San Francisco), Monterey, San Diego, and La Reina de Los Ángeles (Los Angeles) were primarily mestizo and of mixed Negro and Native American ancestry from the province of Sonora y Sinaloa in Mexico. There were also many mulattoes (part black, part Spanish) in Alta California.[35]

19th century

Influential people of African ancestry were among the earliest California settlers and landowners.[36] Pío Pico was a Californio politician, ranchero, and entrepreneur of mixed race with African ancestry, he had served as the last governor of Alta California under Mexican rule (from 1845 until 1846).[37] Juana Briones de Miranda was a Californio business woman of mixed race with African ancestry, she is considered the "Founding Mother of San Francisco", as an early settler of Yerba Buena (now San Francisco).[38] William Leidesdorff was black and multi-racial, he was one another founder of San Francisco.[39]

After the discovery of gold in California on January 24, 1848, African Americans in search of wealth, and freedom arrived in the state during the California Gold Rush seeking their own gold discoveries.[40][41] Additionally white Southerners brought black slaves into the California mines starting in 1849, and were primarily migrating from Texas, Mississippi, Missouri, and Arkansas.[42] The Sweet Vengeance Mine was a gold mine in Browns Valley, discovered by African American miners during the Gold Rush.[43] Moses Rodgers was considered one of the best miners in the state.[44]

Some of the oldest African American churches in California are the Saint Andrews African Methodist Episcopal Church of Sacramento (founded in 1850, formerly known as Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church), the Third Baptist Church in San Francisco (founded in 1852), Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church (Bethel AME Church) in San Francisco (founded in 1852), African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (AME Zion Church) in San Francisco (founded in 1852),[45] and the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles (founded in 1872).[46][47][48] In the 1870s, Rev. Peter William Cassey helped form two new Black Episcopalian churches in San Francisco; "Christ's Mission Church" (or Christ Mission Church), and he worked closely with the congregation from what later became St. Cyprian’s Church, however neither group had a building at that time.[49]

Many of the earliest African Americans in the state held the California State Convention of Colored Citizens, a series of colored convention events active from 1855 to 1902. At the conventions they had elected delegates from the various counties and would discuss topics like slavery, public education, and voting rights.[50][51]

Archy Lee had been formerly enslaved African-American and he was part of a series of notable 19th-century court cases that helped defined civil rights in the state by 1858.[52][53] Edward Duplex was the first Black mayor in California, elected to office in Wheatland in 1888.[54][55]

The first census recorded of African Americans in California appeared in 1850 with 962 people, and in 1860 with 4,086 people.[56] Then, in 1910 the number rose to 22,000.[57]

20th century

See also: Second Great Migration (African American)

In the 1920s during the end of the Barbary Coast-era, Terrific Street was an entertainment district in San Francisco and it was home to numerous black and tan clubs (interracial clubs that often highlighted African American culture).[58]

African Americans migrated during the Second Great Migration from the Southern United States (places like Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas) to the Northeast, Midwest and West to escape Jim Crow laws, between 1940 and 1970.[59] They also migrated to the state for better job opportunities, with many working in the defense industry and shipyards in California.[60][61] Of the Black Louisianans who migrated to California, a number were Louisiana Creoles.[62]

Before World War II, African Americans totaled to less than one percent of California's population.[57] The California population of African Americans grew slowly, alongside other minorities, with only 21,645 African American residents in 1910 compared to 2 million white residents.[63] Post-World War II, African Americans boosted their population enormously in California.[57]

Between the late-1940s until the early-1960s in San Francisco and Los Angeles, a new style of jazz was developed primarily by African Americans called West Coast jazz.[64]

Your Black Muslim Bakery was a chain of bakeries opened by Yusuf Bey in 1968 in Santa Barbara, and moved headquarters in 1971 to Oakland;[65] it had been a model of African American economic self-sufficiency but was later linked to physical and sexual abuse, welfare fraud, and murder which forced its closure on August 9, 2007.[66][67]

In 1991, Rodney King, an African American, was the victim of police brutality when he was beaten by three Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers during his arrest.[68][69][70] The Rodney King beating was caught on videotape, and after the police acquittal verdict the event was followed by the 1992 Los Angeles riots.[71] After the 1992 riots some 50 people were murdered, an estimated 2,000 people were injured and 8,000 people were arrested.[72]

Affirmative action is a set of laws, policies, guidelines, and administrative practices "intended to end and correct the effects of a specific form of discrimination".[73] In November 1996, affirmative action was abolished through Proposition 209 by California lawmakers.[74]

21st century

In the year 2000, California claimed 113,255 African immigrants in state, with the San Francisco Bay Area housing around 29,930 black immigrants. Most of the African immigrants came from Ethiopia. The next largest numbers were from Nigeria, Egypt, and South Africa. Approximately 45,000 Ethiopians and 6,000 Eritreans live in Los Angeles.[75] California is a destination for Egyptian and South African immigrants.[76]

In the 2010s, California was a net loser of black migration for the first time in three decades. Most exiting California blacks are returning to Texas and the Atlanta metropolitan area.[77] In 2018, there are Black neighborhoods and cities with Black populations surpassing 15% in Southern California like in Compton, South Los Angeles and Inglewood, and in Northern California like Stockton,[78] Oakland, and Vallejo.[79] Oakland has been noted for being a center of Northern California's black population, with it being at least 25% black as of 2020. Many African Americans who settled in California, likewise in Oakland, worked on the railroad in Oakland and East Bay areas in the early-to-mid 1900s.[80]

In 2020, anti-Black hate crimes in California has increased.[81][82][83][84] In 2020–2022, the COVID-19 deaths rose for African Americans in California, which had the lowest vaccination rates in the state.[85][86][87]

Rural Black communities

Black people in California generally live in cities or metropolitan areas, although there are some rural Black communities, albeit unusual. Rio Vista, a farm community 25 miles from Fairfield, is over 10% Black, and Siskiyou County community Weed, California is at least 8% Black including multiracial people; its first Black neighborhood, Lincoln Heights, which still had a modern-day sizable Black community up until its destruction, burned down in 2022 in the Mill Fire.

Clearlake, California is about 6% Black including mixed people, substantially higher than other towns nearby or en route from such as Middletown (~1% Black) and Calistoga (~1%).

Central Valley areas like Kings County have higher Black communities.

Rural Southern Californian towns such as Bombay Beach, the lowest-elevated town in the U.S., are examples of remote towns where many African Americans settled; it is over 15% Black.

Many Los Angeles Black individuals and families moved to areas with cheaper estate, such as San Bernardino County and Riverside County. While not particularly very rural but situated more in a suburban and countryside setting, Moreno Valley has a substantial Black population (20%).

Marin City is over 27% black.


See also: List of African-American newspapers in California

The first African American newspaper in California is thought to be the Mirror of the Times, published in the mid-1850s.[88] Other early African American newspapers in Northern California included Pacific Appeal and The Elevator;[89] and in Southern California included the California Eagle, California Voice, and Los Angeles Sentinel.[57]

African American residents of California were first mentioned in 1919 by Black Californian historian Delilah Beasley, and later on Rudolph Lapp, others.[57] More information appeared in journals such as The Journal of Negro History and The Journal of African American History. (3)[90]

The largest film festival focused on black filmmaking is the Pan African Film Festival, founded in 1992.[91] Other notable film festivals dedicated to enhancing the careers of Black filmmaking professionals include The San Diego Black Film Festival and the Hollywood Black Film Festival.[92][93][94]


This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (July 2022)

Elizabeth Thorn Scott Flood was an early African American educator in Sacramento starting in 1854, and she later taught in Oakland.[95][96]

The Phoenixonian Institute of San Jose was the first high school for African American students in the state, it opened in 1861 as a private boarding school and closed in the mid-1870s when the state public schools were no longer segregated.[97] The funding and support for the Phoenixonian Institute initially came from the California State Convention of Colored Citizens and the African American community on the West Coast.[97]

In 1874, the California Supreme Court established the notion of "separate but equal" schools in Ward v. Flood.[98] African American students in lower education increased from 24 pupils in 1870, to 183 pupils by the late 19th-century; and they ranked the highest performing students in literacy subjects in 1900.[63]

The first university Black studies department in the United States was created at San Francisco State University, following the Third World Liberation Front strikes of 1968.[99]

In 1994, California's African American students made up about seven percent of higher education, compared to nine percent in the country.[100]


Black Californians have the highest death rates from breast, cervical, colorectal, lung, and prostate cancer.[101] In 2022, Blacks in California have died at a higher rate than other ethnic groups in from COVID-19 and had the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates.[102] Blacks in California are more prone to obesity.[103] Homicide rates are higher for African Americans in California.[104]


California was the first state to consider reparations for Black residents, and the California Reparations Task Force was formed in order to present the state legislature its recommendations.[105] Economists tell the state that Black Californians could be owed $800 billion in reparations. The $800bn is more than 2.5 times California's annual budget of $300 billion The statewide estimate includes $246 billion in compensation for eligible Black Californians whose neighborhoods were aggressively policed and prosecuted in the "war on drugs" from 1970 to 2020. That would be nearly $125,000 for each person who qualifies. Economists also included $569 billion in reparations for the discriminatory practice of redlining in housing loans. The compensation would be about $223,000 per eligible resident who lived in California from 1933 to 1977.[106]

According to a 2023 poll from the UC Berkeley, the majority of California voters oppose cash reparations as a form of compensation to residents of the state who are the descendants of enslaved African-Americans.[107]


82% of African Americans in California voted for Joe Biden in a exit poll in 2020.[108][109] 82% of African American voters are registered as Democrats.[110] 88% of African Americans in California voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.[111][112]

Kamala Harris is the first African American female Vice President, and she was born and raised in California.[113]


In 2021, the total number of hate crime events reported is the sixth-highest-ever-recorded, and the highest since the aftermath of September 11, 2001.[114] According to a study by the California Department of Justice (DOJ), anti-Black hate crimes from 2021 to 2022 increased in the state by 27%; with all-over hate crimes also increasing by 20%.[114][115]

Blacks have higher arrest rates than white people in California’s 58 counties.[116]

California became the first state to ban discrimination based on natural African-American hair and hairstyles. The bill was signed into law by Gavin Newsom.[117]

African Americans are often victims of racial profiling in California.[118]


Racial/Ethnic Makeup of California treating Hispanics as a Separate Category (2017)[119]

  White Non-Hispanic (36.97%)
  Black Non-Hispanic (5.47%)
  Native American Non-Hispanic (0.37%)
  Asian Non-Hispanic (14.37%)
  Pacific Islander Non-Hispanic (0.35%)
  Other Non-Hispanic (0.27%)
  Two or more races Non-Hispanic (3.05%)
  Hispanic Any Race (39.15%)
Ancestry by origin[14] Number %
Cape Verde Cape Verdeans 1,462
Ethiopia Ethiopians 33,538
Ghana Ghanaians 4,854
Kenya Kenyans 3,228
Liberia Liberians 2,415
Nigeria Nigerians 36,415
Sierra Leone Sierra Leoneans 1,278
Somalia Somalis 5,022
South Africa South Africans 3,376
Sudan Sudanese 3,538
Uganda Ugandans 1,710
Zimbabwe Zimbabweans 408
African 110,116
Other African 10,287

Notable Black Californians

This is a dynamic list and may never be able to satisfy particular standards for completeness. You can help by adding missing items with reliable sources.

See also


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Further reading