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Black Heroes: Bridget 'Biddy' Mason, slave, pioneer and entrepeneur

Updated on December 17, 2014
Bridget 'Biddy' Mason
Bridget 'Biddy' Mason | Source
Biddy Mason's House of the Open Hand
Biddy Mason's House of the Open Hand | Source
Mason's House
Mason's House | Source
Pershing Square circa 1866
Pershing Square circa 1866 | Source

Mason was an American Pioneer

Bridget Mason, known as Biddy, was born a slave in either Mississippi or Georgia. As a younger slave, she was given to or purchased by Robert and Rebecca Smith. Smith was a mormon and in 1847, he moved his entire family and all of his slaves to the Utah Territory. Biddy walked the 2000 mile journey and was responsible for the cattle, cooking, being a midwife, and taking care of her own three daughters. In 1851, they made another arduous journey to San Bernardino to start a Mormon Colony there. Mason again walked and took care of her children and her duties.

The year before, California had entered the Union as a free state. Slavery was prohibited and the Mormon Church had urged Smith to free his slaves, but he refused. However, no one in California challenged slaver and if they did, they regularly lost. Smith’s move there would prove fortuitous for Mason. She made herself invaluable to the black community and met many people who urged her to sue Smith for her freedom. One of these people was her future son-in-law, Charles Owens.

Later, it is believed that the Smith family fell on hard times and that Robert decided to take his slaves back to Texas. A petition was filed and Biddy, who could not testify in court because of the color of her skin, was granted a private audience with the judge where she told her story. According to reports, Smith did not appear. The petition was granted and Mason and her family moved to Los Angeles to live with the Owens family.

She soon became know as an excellent nurse and midwife. Her great talent though was saving money which she did religiously. She birthed thousands of babies, helped the homeless, helped pregnant women and amassed a small fortune. In 1866, she bought a house and some land on Spring St. in Los Angeles, which was about three blocks from the current City Hall. 10 years later she sold some of the for $1500 and built a commercial building and some other properties on the rest. In the coming years, it was said that Mason was worth $300,000.

She never stopped serving her community. She was one of the greatest philanthropist in Los Angeles. She was fluent in Spanish. She gave as much as she earned, including, it is believed giving jobs to African Americans. She started the first congregation of the First AME Church and is honored with a park in the Business District of Los Angeles where her home use to be.

Biddy died on January 15, 1891. Her grandson, Robert Curry-Owens would become the richest African American in Los Angeles and in the West.


Biddy Mason Park

Biddy Mason Park

A
Bradbury Building 304 South Broadway Los Angeles, CA 90013:
Bradbury Building, 304 South Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013, USA

get directions

Biddy Mason Park is located inside the Bradbury Building courtyard.

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    • habueld profile imageAUTHOR

      Bruce Bean 

      3 years ago from Riverside, CA

      Thanks for the comment.

    • GuitarGear profile image

      Walter Holokai 

      3 years ago from Youngstown, Ohio

      Bruce, what a great story! It's inspirational to see what one determined soul can do in the face of what most people would consider unsurmountable adversity. Biddy was truly an American hero. She is more than worthy of a Google tribute. Hopefully in February, during Black History Month, she'll get one. Thank you for your article and Happy Holidays.

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