“history textbooks often flatten the narratives, excluding events and upholding a Euro-centric narrative of what constitutes “history.” 



In the mountains of Northern California, in Shasta and Siskiyou Counties, one of the largest gold mining events of the 19th century occurred. Within a few years of the first discovery of gold, miners had arrived from all corners of the globe. While contemporary historical accounts depict this rush as a largely indistinguishable mass of opportunists, careful study reveals motivations were far from singular. Among those arriving in the west were a significant number of African Americans. In fact by 1852 over 2,000 men of African American descent were in the California gold fields. However, today little is ever mentioned about the free and enslaved black men who lived in the northern California wilderness by pick and shovel.

Through the lens of contemporary storytelling, theater, photography, music and video we will reconstruct the lives of these African Americans. Through collaboration with history professionals and local artists we will work with African American communities in Redding and Siskiyou County to tell the story of migration and of the experience working in often remote mines. This project will finally provide opportunities for members of the African American community to assert “their” story. 1

(1)African American Storytelling: Collective Memory, Creative Resistance, and Personal Transformation.

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This project is made possible through the generous support of a California Humanities grant award and contributions from community members like you. Thank you!

The Fiscal Project status of the Shasta County Arts Council allows the project, among other things, to apply for grant-based funding sources.

You can also donate to the Project through a GoFundMe campaign.


Storytelling, by its oral nature, is strongly rooted in the African American cultural tradition. From the church to blues, storytelling harks back to a well-established tradition of oral performance. Modern-day storytellers relate traditional stories to contemporary audiences in performances that are not only entertaining & educational but transformative. The transformation component includes a heightened sense of self-worth & cultural group cohesion. One way to describe the effect of these activities is finding a deeper meaning for the way art can reveal truths. Our stories will employ multiple art practices to ensure that they are accessible to all groups of participants & viewers. For the theater/video production aspect, this project presents a unique learning experience for community participants. This process will include professional training & mentoring from filmmakers & directors who will instruct & advise in order to create scripts (stories) allowing community participants to create the historical narrative. In this way the community actors are given a voice in presenting their history.

Activating community participation is the backbone of our endeavor. Since the beginning of filmmaking directors have chosen untrained actors to play roles in their films. These actors’ inclusion gives the film a nuance of authenticity that sometimes is unavailable in a studied actor’s role. Tapping into this creative potential of the untrained actor is at the heart of our project 1852 Voices of the Golden Ghosts. This is ground-breaking material, as it is previously unexamined in the historical records. Working with archivists, authors, and archaeologists, the content for our creative work has been uncovered. Now disseminating this information to our African American community participants and having them act these stories is the thrust of project.

Included in our project are art/video and theater professionals who will interact with the dynamic range of ages of 13 up to 75 of our untrained participants. Giving community members an active role in telling their history through the visual and theater arts we will encourage people to re-examine the history of their communities and provide them with the tools to continue telling the stories of their lives through artmaking.

Contemporary African American storytelling seeks to create and maintain a positive self-image and worldview in a people misconceived and misrepresented for centuries in inaccurate stereotypes, such as being lazy, unintelligent brutes (DuBois, 1992).

Since the 1920s when thousands of African Americans arrived in Siskiyou County to work in the lumber industry, little if no historical or cultural data notes their contributions to society. People of African descent have existed as early as the Spanish and Mexican period in California history. It was not until the Lincoln Heights documentary From the Quarters to Lincoln Heights, 2011 that this community was recognized and given a public voice in our area. This project gives African Americans the leading role in telling their story through the recollections of historical events and the evidence being ignored for over 150 years.

Unlike their white counterparts, little was preserved to document African American history in our North State region. Just a few names are preserved by their family legacies like Alvin Coffey and Phoebe Colburn. All that remains from the African American presence during the Gold Rush are place names such as Negro Creek, Negro Hill, Negro Mine (2 – see footnote), and the numerous listings in the 1852 census. Though harshly named, these place names reflect empowerment of African Americans during the tumultuous early years of statehood. Sites like “Negro Mines” in the Siskiyou Mountains are indicative of places that proliferated in the Gold Rush era, but currently are overlooked and not part of the historical discourse.

Our project ensures large interest from the African American Communities of both Redding and Siskiyou County, and eventually statewide. We plan to debut the project in conjunction with the MLK Center in Redding and through arts council and historical society partners in Siskiyou, Tehama, Butte, Trinity, and Shasta.

(2) Changed from earlier names considered offensive.



This project was made possible with support from California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Visit www.calhum.org.

Project Leaders

Mark Oliver
Mark Oliver
Project Director

Mark has been making art and films for over 40 years. He has received numerous residencies, grants and awards for his films and art and has produced and directed over 7 films and videos while living in the Mount Shasta area since 2000. His 2011 documentary “From the Quarters to Lincoln Heights”  won awards both nationally and internationally.

Most recently his video “CAVE” was shown at ARTZOND 2018 Festival, St Petersburg, Russia. His work was selected for the West Coast Biennial 2019 at Turtle Bay.

He has a MFA from the University of California at San Diego.

Patricia Lord
Patricia Lord

Patricia Lord attended Beloit College in Beloit, Wisconsin where she received her undergraduate degree in Classical Civilization, with minors in Museum Studies and Anthropology. She went on to attend John F. Kennedy University in Pleasant Hill, California where she earned master’s degrees in Museum Studies and Business Administration with an emphasis on non-profit management. She has worked at museums, large and small, across the United States including the Field Museum, California Academy of Sciences, and The Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

She is currently involved in several projects, through work as an independent consultant, researching and interpreting the history of northern California. Co-founder of This Place Matters – Redding, a group of passionate historians engaged in placemaking and community development.”

Eddie McAllister
Eddie McAllister
Outreach Coordinator - Community Organizer

Eddie is a Community Organizer and has been working as such for 17 years for Shasta County Public Health. He currently works as Equity Organizer in the Division of Community Engagement and Quality Improvement. As a Community Organizer over the years, he has built many relationships in Shasta County. He formerly worked at the Martin Luther King Center for nine years and now serves on the Board of the Martin Luther King Multicultural Center. He is a liaison for the Martin Luther King Neighborhood, member of Second Baptist Church, Chairperson of Shasta Coalition of African Black Americans for Community Health, member of Education and Empowerment. (S.C.O.A.C.H.E.), Board member of Shasta County Citizen Advocating Respect (S.C.C.A.R), Committee member of Shasta College Student Equity, Black Student Union.