In this episode we learn how the PPIE’s “Jewel City” was named by a young African American girl named Virginia Stephens. This story is brought to light by the work of journalist and historian Delilah Beasley, who was writing at the time of the PPIE. We were inspired to tell this story because it demonstrates the power of naming, as it highlights Beasley’s larger efforts to insert Black history into early California narratives. Anecdotally, We begin with the naming of California, a story that Beasley connects to a larger history of Black Californians.
“Oakland Sunshine” was the name of one of the newspapers Delilah Beasley wrote for during the PPIE – the other being the “Oakland Tribune.” No question: she was extraordinary. Not only was Beasley a female African American writing during a time deeply ingrained with racism and gender inequality, but she took it upon herself to write a history of African Americans in the state of California. In 1919 she self-published The Negro Trailblazers of California, an amazing text beginning with the story of California’s naming and ending in the early 20th century.
This episode provides context for our next story, which will focus on the film Birth of a Nation by D.W. Griffith. In the Bay Area, Delilah Beasley rallied against the film in her work as a journalist, leading demonstrations against the film. We wanted to show that as Black Californians organized a symbolic parade for the PPIE, the film also screened in California and the PPIE throughout the year. We found this tension fascinating to our historical imagination, and decided to use the soundtrack from music composed for Birth of a Nation to give an impression of the era.