BIDDY MASON  CALIFORNIA SUED FOR HER FREEDOM_jpgRosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Madame CJ Walker—the list of women typically mentioned during Black History Month is incredibly short. But this year, CLUTCH will celebrate the achievements of Black women you may not have ever heard about.

First up: Bridget “Biddy” Mason.

Bridget “Biddy” Mason was born on August 15, 1818 in Georgia. Mason was born into slavery and before her death in 1891 she become one of Los Angeles’ wealthiest Black residents and philanthropists.

After working on a plantation in Mississippi owned by Robert Marion Smith, Mason migrated to Utah with the Smiths, who had converted to Mormonism. During the grueling two-thousand-mile journey, Mason herded cattle, prepared meals, and worked as a nurse and midwife. In 1851, Smith moved his brood, including his enslaved servants, to San Bernardino, California.

California was admitted to the Union as a free state in 1850 and forbade slavery, because of this, Smith planned to relocate to Texas to continue holding slaves. However, in 1856 Mason petitioned the court and sued Smith for her freedom. She won her case, securing not only her freedom, but also that of her daughters, as well as 10 other Black women and their children.

After winning her freedom, Mason moved to Los Angeles and worked as a nurse and midwife. She saved her money and in 1866, just 10 years after securing her freedom, Mason bought a site near Broadway and Spring Street for $250, making her one of the first Black women to own land in L.A.

Mason later sold a parcel of the land for $1500 and built a commercial building that she rented out to several others. Through several business ventures and real estate transactions, Mason was able to amass a fortune of nearly $300,000, making her one of the city’s wealthiest Black residents.

In addition to her business dealings, Mason was a generous philanthropist. She was a founding member of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1872, the city’s first Black church, and she often gave to charities that worked to feed and clothe the poor.

Biddy Mason died on January 15, 1891 and was buried in an unmarked grave at Evergreen Cemetery in the Boyle Heights. In 1988, a tombstone was erected and Mayor Tom Bradley (L.A.’s first and only Black mayor) declared November 16, 1989 as Biddy Mason Day.

*Hit the share buttons below to help others learn about Ms. Mason’s story!

  • Leo the Yardie Chick

    Thank you for sharing knowledge about Ms. Mason!

  • Me27

    I love this and look forward to reading more stories!

  • geenababe

    Good story to hear like many I have never heard of this woman before. She was a very smart woman to sue her master for her freedom then turn around and become a successful business woman.

  • binks

    Wow, alright Ms. Mason. She is the definition of boss. Looking forward to this series.

  • omfg

    in l.a. there is a small outdoor sorta memorial (can’t think of what to do call it) that’s dedicated to ms. mason. it’s downtown where she owned property – the broadway/spring area. it’s in an alley in back of maccheroni republic (a good italian restaurant). the alley sounds worse than it is. but, it’s still an alley. lol.

    it’s amazing to know that a black woman, and former slave, was one of the founders of los angeles. can you imagine what that property is worth today?

    i need to find out where she’s buried. why would she have an unmarked grave?

  • Alicia R.

    Great post Clutch; and I look forward to reading about more unsung SHEroes of our collective history this BHM!

    As an editorial note, however, I think the correct date listed about John Marion Smith moving his brood to CA should be 1851, not 1951 as it is currently noted in the last sentence of the 3rd paragraph.

  • Clutch

    She’s buried in Evergreen Cemetery in the Boyle Heights. They added a gravestone to mark her site at the 1989 ceremony.


  • noirluv45

    I echo everyone else’s sentiment. I, too, look forward to reading more stories like these. As we can see by the SNL thread, no one’s gonna give sisters love except for us.

  • Clutch

    Good catch! Fixed it.

  • Mmmgood

    Thanks, Clutch! I love the fact that you’ll be doing this from now on. I enjoyed learning about her. I hadn’t heard of her until now, and it really does something good for my spirit when I read these types of historical facts about African American women.

  • Alicia R.

    Not a problem at all. Thanks for sharing Biddy Mason’s great story :0)

  • GlowBelle

    Voicing the same, keep these articles coming! Never heard of Biddy Mason, but I’m glad that her story was shared as it’s inspiring to hear how Ms. Mason beat the odds like that.

  • SayWhat

    I’m with everyone else, keep em coming. Great read.

  • MommieDearest

    Wow, great story and EXCELLENT post! Kudos to you Clutch. I’m looking forward to this “Unsung Sisters” series.

  • omfg

    okay, that’s one of the scariest cemeteries i’ve ever seen. whenever i go buy it, i’m nervous. i get the heebeejeebees.

    anyway, thanks. maybe i’ll stop one day.maybe one day i’ll do a cemetery tour of notable black folks.

  • Anthony

    It is always cool to hear stories about black folks succeeding against incredible odds. This is the kind of information that makes you get off your butt and work when you are feeling down.

  • yardyspice

    I am excited about this series because I think it’s important that our kids know about the everyday heroines who because of their daily heroism, made it possible for us to be enjoying our relative freedom.

  • Carmen

    Wow, as a nurse, I only heard of one or two black nurses in the American past. Never Biddy Mason. To read this story and know how far back black nurses, black entrepreneurs and black perseverance goes in this country humbles me.

    Thank you to all who paved the way for us.

  • Awesome Article

    I love this. Is so important to OWN. It’s even more important to control means of production. We need Black Entrepreneurs. As many as possible.


  • lina

    I am SO excited about this, I honestly haven’t been this excited about something media-wise in a long time!! Can’t wait to add to my list of black female heroes.

  • Courtney H.

    Thank you so much for providing us with this story! We need to learn more about our lesser-known s/heroes!

  • jazzyphile

    I worked for 18 years right across the street from the memorial. It’s really isn’t an alley (a throughway maybe). The memorial was designed by Bettye Saar. Anyway, I believe she walked behind a wagon train all the way to Utah.

  • Alvin

    Biddy Mason

  • Tracey Cade

    That is Wonderful. I love these kind of stories. I used to get American Legacy, and it shared they same type of articles.

  • Tracey Cade

    That is Wonderful. I love these kind of stories. I used to get American Legacy, and it shared they same type of articles.

  • Francine Johnson

    Please mam, I want more!

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