The Roots of L.A., or… Grandma Mason: 38 years a slave, a lifetime of humanity

Biddy "Grandma" Mason.
Right in the pulsing heart of downtown Los Angeles is an extraordinary memorial celebrating one of humanity’s greatest heroes: “Grandma” Bridget “Biddy” Mason. By sheer serendipity, I happened upon this commemoratory wall while taking an exploratory stroll (Dora would be proud). This is a monument not to be missed. Before proceeding to the images, which will speak for themselves, I’d like to make a brief commentary based on my observations.

Downtown L.A. is the living embodiment of the Dickensian “Two Cities” melded into one. The streets are teeming with our sisters and brothers who have been deemed “useless” by the modern global capitalist system. These humans without a home inhabit the vibrant streets below the soaring lofts above. In the plaza where the monument is located, between Broadway and Spring at 3rd Street (across the street from and just south of Grand Central Market), many Spanish-speaking folks congregate to enjoy a shady reprieve from the hustle-and-bustle of Broadway, mere feet away.

Biddy was a fluent Spanish speaker. How many Spanish speakers know her story? I’m guessing not that many. I’m assuming way too few English speakers know her story (and here my bias is evident, because I sure didn’t… I think I’d heard her name, but I certainly didn’t KNOW, y’know?). I didn’t take a survey to confirm this, but I’m not sure that the folks congregated there know her story, either (I’d be thrilled to be proven wrong on all these points).

We’ve all heard where assumptions lead, but empirical evidence, in the form of apparent lack of linguistic access (i.e. no evident Spanish translation), suggested that there may be an oversight in terms of the monument’s accessibility to those who occupy its space most frequently. There is an information desk in the plaza which may offer some kind of language service, but when I was passing through there wasn’t anyone there to answer my questions. Alas, I hope that someone reading this might be able to shed some light on this question. 🙂 A cursory Google advanced search for Spanish-language results for “biddy mason” is here. [Further links in English available here.]

Without further ado, a photographic tour of Biddy Mason Park:

1781: 26/44 settlers. 1821: LA is (independent) Mexico. 1836: Biddy (18) & sis prop of R. Smith in Miss. 1849: Ord survey for U.S.. 1856: Biddy fam free in CA. 1866: Biddy buys homestead for $250 (10 yrs' savings!). 1872: Biddy organizes First AME church/ delivers 100's of babies. 1880-1890: Biddy cares. | 1885: Biddy's grandsons start stable. 1900: L.A. mourns and reveres Grandma Mason. 1989: credit.

4 Comments

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it! It really impacted me as a very powerful particular expression of broad universal experiences relating to race, place and how the world’s come to be as it is. Cheers! 🙂

  1. What an interesting post about a person I have never heard of. I’m sure there are hundreds like her that we never know about either. Thanks for making us aware. I have read several of your posts, (I’ll read more!) and find them all informative, enjoyable, and about subject matter that is of great interest to me. I look forward to reading more, and thanks for following my blog.

    1. Thanks, Marilyn! I agree with your intuition that many great folks–in particular, women–have escaped the pages of history. If we can bring their stories to light, it can illuminate the paths of those who walk among us, and those to come. And I think all people can benefit from that! Take care 🙂

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