In 1887, James and his wife Iona left Texas for California. Formerly enslaved, they had wished to move to Africa but Iona’s health problems made the six month journey by boat dangerous. Instead, they went by “steaming iron horse” west to Pomona. They brought with them 10 children and grandchildren, including Nancy Washington, who would later relay this story.
Before they could find a home, they lived in a tent in the vineyard of Tom Holliday, a friend of James’s, located at Park and Grand Streets. By 1896, the family had found their home at what would eventually be 1390 S. Main St. (Sadly, their home is no longer standing.) James began working in the vineyard, but city directories show that James later worked as a miner. The family attended the First Methodist Church (located at Third and Gordon Streets) until Alfred Baldridge established the African Methodist Church at the corner of 10th and Main (around 1895).
Ms. Washington would later recount happy years in Pomona, but they also faced racism and even terrorism. Not long after the Washingtons had arrived, another African American family saw their house burnt down just as they were preparing to move in. In spite of this and other attacks, African Americans continued to move to area and establish homes and businesses. It would take a few more years for Pomona’s African American community to grow in earnest, but they remained an integral part of the Pomona Valley.
We are so fortunate to have these items from one of Pomona’s earliest pioneer families, especially since they are one of the earliest African American families to arrive. Unfortunately, the stories of Pomona’s African Americans and other minority communities have often been hidden and lost, but this only makes research and education more important. This February, let us remember that every month is in fact Black history month. Here’s to all of the hidden histories of our important community members, just waiting to be shared.
Top, from Left:
1. A signature inside a reading primer, possibly from Iona Washington herself.
2. & 3. The Washington family Bible, with family record.
Bottom, from Left:
1. James Washington's mother.
2. Iona Washington.
3. Nancy Washington.
(Originally posted on Facebook February 12, 2021).