Last summer, we sent a researcher to comb archives and collections looking for Wells Fargo mentions in 19th century African American press . African American communities have always been present in America, but too often historically invisible. Historians have begun to search the record more deeply for African American history. In the West, African American communities quickly took shape after emancipation as Blacks moved in all directions.
From 1850-1857, African-Americans in California organized three consecutive conventions to dialogue about suffrage, school segregation, and other political issues. The first African-American newspaper of California, The Mirror of the Times, was published in San Francisco with the tag line, “Truth Crushed to the Earth Will Rise Again.” Unfortunately, only three issues of The Mirror survived.
One dated December 12, 1857 made the following notation: “The Petition Heads will be sent to all persons who are in want of them by Wells, Fargo & Co’s Express.” (“Petition Heads” referred to efforts to obtain signatures to challenge discriminatory laws.) Clearly, Black members of the community trusted Wells, Fargo & Co’s Express to help disseminate their civil rights communication. Subsequent African-American newspapers of California, The Pacific Appeal (1864-80) and The Elevator(1865-98) also utilized and promoted the services of Wells, Fargo, & Co’s Express. Editors of both papers directed subscribers to remit their payments through Wells Fargo.
This is consistent with Wells Fargo & Company 1888 Express Rules and Instructions to its Agents, issued by John. J. Valentine, Vice President and General Manager. Rule Number 9 stated: “Proper respect must be shown to all—let them be men, women, children, rich or poor, white or black.”
When reviewing these newspapers, it is dramatic how settled and prosperous California African-Americans were. Many owned property, held memberships in community organizations, and stayed politically aware. Articles discussed Mrs. Mary Pleasants who built a “palatial residence” for $25,000, and Wells Fargo employee William Robison’s property in Stockton and his work to promote education.
New history is being explored and written that demonstrates the permanence, as well as resiliency, of African American communities. And not just since slavery, but since Africans first came to North America in 1619. Historians are checking everything to see if there’s anything new that can help tell the full story. Wells Fargo historians are doing our small part, looking in the African American press for customers, employees, shipments and other transactions. It expands the historical record, sure, but it adds to all our stories.