Black Business

One Black Family Claims California Took Their Land for a State Park 75 Years Ago, Now They’re Fighting to Get It Back.

Rufus Burgess arrived in California in the late 1840s and built a fortune during the Gold Rush. Having once been enslaved, Burgess was a freeman. On his land, he grew fruit bearing orchards and ran a blacksmith shop. For more than 100 years, the Burgess family thrived on the land until it was taken in 1947 under eminent domain laws. That is the account of the family history given by at least one of the descendants. 

Photo from Twitter @CAStateParks

Today Jonathan Burgess is leading his family’s fight for the state to return the land, which is part of Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in Coloma. Coloma is approximately 36 miles northeast of Sacramento.

“Ultimately, our goal is to have our land returned, but first to recognize what actually took place,” Burgess, a resident of Northern California, told USA Today.

“If we as Americans want to truly heal our nation and atone for what happened to Black people that were formerly enslaved and descendants of slaves, we’ve got to first tell the truth, as difficult as (that) may be.”

The Burgess family claims that their ancestor, Rufus, once owned “half the park.” However, there is no documented land ownership in Coloma under their family name.

In addition, there are no historical markers present on park grounds to even prove that the land once belonged to the Burgess family. This has placed the family in a dispute with park officials; it is difficult to provide reparations or recognize the family’s legacy without any documentation.

Jeff Lee, a member of the nonprofit, Gold Discovery Park Association told the National Geographic that the land that is thought to have been owned by the Burgess family was an estimated 11 acres, according to a deed from 1881.

While Lee is not a representative of Coloma State Park, his support with research positions him to provide documentation that might allow park officials and the Burgess family to reach an agreement.

Read full story at Finurah here.

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