Exhibit: Santa Barbara African American Life, Culture, and Contributions, 1890-1990

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The exhibit focuses on 19 individuals and their families that have made significant contributions both to the White community and the African American community in Santa Barbara, between 1890 and 1990. As the exhibit developed it was decided to include outstanding organizations, churches, businesses, military, artists, athletes, and famous visitors.

In 1940, the total population of African Americans was 340 females and 300 males in the city of approximately 35,000. Ten years later, the population increased exponentially with about the same percentage as the city’s population. This increase was mostly due to the military bases located nearby in Santa Maria. Most of the individuals seem to be from Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

Over the last year, there has been a greater interest in the life and history of African American life and culture, as well as an increased interest in cataloging information and identifying important landmarks. St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest African American church in Santa Barbara received city landmark status. Also, the University of California, Santa Barbara has increased efforts in expanding their Special Collections sections.

Organizations that supported the community included the George Washington Carver Club, the NAACP, Elks Club, and later the Franklin Center, the Endowment for Youth Committee, Martin Luther King, Jr. Committee, and more recently youth led organizations Juneteenth Celebration, Young Black Professionals, Healing Justice, and Black Culture House.

The church plays such an important role in the African American community. Five churches were singled out that has been the foundation of the African American community since the 1940s. They include St. Paul African American Episcopal Church, Second Baptist Church, Lewis Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Friendship Missionary Church and Greater Hope Baptist Church.

The Outreach Committee members were very thorough in the pursuit of making genealogical connections with documented evidence related to time and places of events. The end result is a small glimpse into the rich, vibrant lives and culture of African American people, who over a hundred-year period made outstanding contributions to the Santa Barbara community, despite living in a climate where racial discrimination made it challenging to survive and thrive here.

~E. onja Brown, SBCGS Outreach Committee Member

Virtual panel discussion features several of the featured African Americans who shared their stories, photographs and historical documents from the virtual exhibition as part of the Santa Barbara Public Library’s 2021 Book to Action programming around “The Yellow House” by Sarah M. Broom in June 2021. 

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