Can you remember when the last Black Governor of California served? I couldn’t and looked it up. It was over 150 years ago.
In 1845-1846, the last Mexican governor of southern Alta California was Pío Pico. He was born in 1801 at the San Gabriel Mission in California. He was and is a famous Californio, born and raised in Spanish and Mexican California. His grandparents Felipe Pico and María Jacinta Bastida were of mixed race heritage including African, Spanish and indigenous ancestry. They were free people who moved from Sonora in New Spain (Mexico) to Alta California along with the Second Anza Expedition in 1775 to begin a new life. Pico’s parents José María Darío Pico and María Estaquia López were children during the Anza Expedition. As young people in 1789, they married in San Diego. José María Darío Pico was a military man at the San Gabriel Mission and Mission San Luis Rey until 1818.
Pío Pico was actually governor of Alta California twice! The first time was in 1832, when he took over the post from Manuel Victoria (who also had African ancestry). So Pico wasn’t the first Black governor of California, only the last. Pico’s second term began in 1845. After 1846, he focused on his cattle ranching business and fighting to maintain his quarter million acres of land. He even opened a hotel in Los Angeles.
Meanwhile in the United States, the fable of Manifest Destiny was alive and well. The Texan revolt against Mexico’s anti-slavery stance began the Mexican-American War in 1846. Pío’s brother Andrés Pico was part of the resistance against the US invasion of Los Angeles, but lost to the stronger opponent. After Mexico’s defeat, California was annexed and became a US state in 1850. I believe it is important to note that Pío Pico was not in favor of US control of California. Considering the debate about whether slavery would be legal in California as it entered the Union and the fact that the racial divide continues to bar qualified Black candidates from the highest offices such as governor 170 years later, I can see why he felt that way.
More than a century later, California place names do homage to the Pico name; Pico Boulevard in LA, the city of Pico, CA, the Pico House, and Pío Pico State Historic Park.
Did you know Black settlers reached California before the Gold Rush? I look forward to your comments. –Rebecca