Campus: CSU Sacramento -- February 13, 2004

CSUS Launches California Slavery Archive

California’s little-known history of slavery will be a click away when California State University, Sacramento’s Underground Railroad Digital Archive project goes online on Tuesday, Feb. 17.

Launched as part of the University’s celebration of Black History Month, the archive will use high-quality digital images of letters, journals, photographs, documents, newspapers and more to tell the often-overlooked experiences of African-American slaves in California and the new state’s involvement in the Underground Railroad. Beginning Tuesday it can be found at

The collection brings together materials collected from around the state and includes a bibliography of more than 1,000 documents related to 19th-century African-American history in California and the West Coast.

“It’s a growing process and this is just the beginnings of it,” Joe Moore, organizer of the archive project, said. “We’ll be adding to it constantly.”

Although California was admitted to the Union as a free state in 1850, slavery was winked at in the early years. Slave owners openly held blacks in bondage and at least one city—Sacramento—held public auctions where African-Americans were bought and sold. The state, however, also attracted abolitionists, both black and white, who worked to free enslaved blacks, often sending them north to British Columbia.

In one well known case, Archy Lee, a slave from Mississippi, successfully sued for his freedom when his master threatened to send him back. Moore said that visitors to the digital archive will be able to see how the trial was reported in local newspapers.

“You’ll be able to track how the trial progressed and what took place here in Sacramento,” Moore said.

The CSUS Library archive is one part of the National Park Service’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program, a interpretive program that looks at how blacks and some whites worked together to help Southern slaves escape to freedom in the North and West as well as Canada, Mexico, Europe and the Caribbean. The University’s archive will be linked to similar projects across the nation and is funded through a $132,000 federal grant administered by the California State Library.

For more information, contact Moore at (916) 278-7302. Media assistance is available from CSUS public affairs at (916) 278-6156.

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