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Santa Cruz County History - People
Joseph "Joe" Smallwood was an African-American pioneer of Santa Cruz County, who was instrumental in leading the civil rights movement in the days before the Civil War and Emancipation Proclamation.
Smallwood, a barber by trade, was born in Maryland on June 11, 1814 to parents who were ex-slaves, having been granted their freedom when England banned slavery on the island of Jamaica. As a young man, he married and moved his family to Philadelphia where he set up shop in the North Mulberry district.
With the discovery of gold in Sutter's Mill, he signed on as the ship's steward aboard the George Washington, a ship bound for California. Upon reaching San Francisco during the summer of 1849, he left immediately for the goldfields, taking a claim at Coloma in El Dorado County. Smallwood remained there until 1863 when he moved to San Francisco and, in 1868, then on to Santa Cruz where he headed the local black community until his death on July 5, 1880.
During his years in California, Smallwood was active in the movement to secure voting rights and other civil liberties for African-American citizens. He was a delegate to all of the Colored People's Conventions and a frequent contributor to the African-American press on the west coast. At the local level he led the fight to integrate Santa Cruz County schools and sponsored several local youngsters who went on to attend the University of California at Berkeley. One of them, his godson, Joseph Smallwood Francis, became the publisher and editor of the Western Outlook, a large west coast newspaper.
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