In 1851, when 437 Mormons set out from Utah to form a new colony in southern California, eventually to become the city of San Bernardino there were 26 blacks with them. However, it is quite possible most people wouldn’t know it from reading most of the history books written about the era.
Former slave Lizzy Flake Rowan played a major role in San Bernardino’s early history, according to San Bernardino’s Historical and Pioneer Society. Elizabeth (Lizzy) Flake Rowan was one of the 26 slaves that would eventually be a big part of why the San Bernardino community became a success. At age four she was taken from her parents and given to a white couple, James and Agnes Flake, as a wedding present.
After James Flake died his widowed wife took her children and Lizzy on the journey to Southern California. When the family arrived in San Bernardino Lizzy helped make the first adobe brick for the first homes built in the community. She also helped build a fort, to protect them from an “Indian uprising.” Many of the black people chose to stay own and were accepted in the community, they were viewed as valuable members in the community.
Agnes Flake passed away shortly after settling in San Bernardino and left Lizzy to take care of her children. While Lizzy did receive her freedom when she entered California territory, one of the children went back to Utah and “sent back the proper papers to Lizzy giving her the freedom she already technically had.” After receiving her freedom Lizzy still took care of the children until she could find someone else to continue giving them care. She then married a man named Charles Rowan. Lizzy married Charles Rowan, and they put down roots in San Bernardino. They raised three children and Charles operated his own barbershop. Their daughter Alice became one of the first African Americans in the history of California to graduate from college.
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