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‘We Are Not Strangers Here:’ Exhibit highlights history of Black Americans in rural California

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Courtesy: California State Parks
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An exhibit highlighting the histories of Black Americans across rural California is on display at the Spooner Ranch House in Montaña de Oro State Park."

The Spooner Ranch House in Montaña de Oro State Park is hosting a traveling exhibit that explores the histories of Black Americans across rural California.

The exhibit is called ‘We Are Not Strangers Here: African American Histories in Rural California.’

Amy Hart is the state historian for the San Luis Obispo Coast District of California State Parks. She said the exhibit is made up of a number of panels meant to highlight unknown and untold stories of Black farmers, ranchers and rural residents across the state.

Hart said the Spooner Ranch House is a great location to talk about this kind of history and add to the visitor experience.

“[It’s] so great to have an exhibit that highlights the stories of African Americans in rural California and to show it at this kind of homestead house museum that we have out in Los Osos, where it can be shown in this really rural place,” Hart said.

She said the exhibit focuses geographically on the Central Valley and Southern California. It highlights settlements where Hart said Black residents would move to try to escape discrimination and have more control over their every day lives.

To localize the exhibit even further, Hart said the State Parks created an additional panel to highlight Black history here on the Central Coast.

“It highlights stories of Black soldiers that were stationed here on the Central Coast during World War II and the African American communities that arrived in Paso Robles and were kind of homesteaders during the 1800’s,” Hart said.

To add to the experience for visitors, Hart said there’s an interactive ‘call-in’ component. Although she said the rural location of the Spooner Ranch House is appropriate for the nature of the history, visitors may run into some technical challenges out there.

“Unfortunately the phone signal is kind of sketchy at the Spooner Ranch House,” Hart said. “But part of the exhibit is to be able to call in and hear extended stories of the Black farmers and ranchers and rural residents who are highlighted in the exhibit.”

Hart said this exhibit is important for visitors to experience because it helps fill in the gaps in California’s history.

“For too long, African Americans have really been kind of left out of the histories of rural California,” Hart said. “But the reality is that African Americans were also homesteaders and they were gold miners and they were farmers. So histories of California’s rural communities are incomplete without including the role of African Americans in the story.”

The exhibit is available for visitors to tour every day at the Spooner Ranch House from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. until October 10.

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