Sunday, June 23, 2024

Exhibit Opening: An Island Looks Back: Uncovering Coronado’s Hidden African American History – Feb. 9

The Coronado Historical Association is proud to announce the opening of its latest exhibit, An Island Looks Back: Uncovering Coronado’s Hidden African American History, on Friday, February 9, 2024.

Coronado, once a barren peninsula in 1886, witnessed the birth of a town that would become a thriving community. Little known to most, African Americans played a significant role among the early pioneers who shaped Coronado’s foundation. Despite the challenges of the land bust of 1888, a resilient group of African Americans laid down roots, establishing successful businesses, owning property, and becoming civic leaders at the state level. Their children attended integrated schools, participated in local clubs, excelled in sports, and went on to achieve success in higher education.

Coach Pete Thomas in 1983. Coronado Historical Association Collection.

Many of these pioneers were also patriotic military veterans, serving in the segregated American military. The ranks included Civil War veterans, Buffalo Soldiers, and those who fought in both World Wars. However, by the late 1920s, racial restrictions emerged, implemented through restrictive property deeds common throughout the United States, leading to a decline in Coronado’s African American population by the early 1940s.

Earl Barlow, CHS Class of 1955. Coronado Historical Association Collection.

A transformative moment occurred in 1944 with the construction of the Federal Housing Project, bringing nearly 3,000 residents to Coronado, including over 400 African American individuals and families. Despite ongoing challenges, this housing development remained until 1969, fostering a surprising diversity in Coronado compared to other cities in San Diego County. The era concluded with the demolition of the Housing Project coinciding with the opening of the Coronado Bridge. Since 1969, Coronado’s African American population has been primarily connected to Navy families, retired military and non-military, and families who chose to make Coronado their home.

A class at the Coronado School in 1902, which includes Walter and Edythe Thompson, who were the children of Coronado pioneers Gus & Emma Thompson. Coronado Historical Association Collection.

The An Island Looks Back exhibit explores these remarkable yet often overlooked stories—both tragic and triumphant. It serves as a powerful reminder that African American history is an integral part of American history and Coronado history.

CHA extends our deepest gratitude to the donors and advisory members whose support made this exhibit possible, including Kevin Ashley, May Brouhard, Bobby Brown, David Grant-Williams, Palma Lawrence Reed, James Love, Claudia Ludlow, Susan Marrinan, Fern Nelson, Yvette Porter Moore, Asante Sefa-Boakye, Jason Sevier, and Brad Willis. Their commitment to preserving and sharing these stories ensures that Coronado’s rich history is accessible to all. This exhibit is made possible in part by the City of Coronado Community Grant. 

Join us for the opening of this extraordinary exhibit on Friday, February 9, 2024, as we embark on a journey to uncover and celebrate the hidden African American history of Coronado. A member-only exhibit opening morning with Q&A with curatorial staff will be held at 9 am followed by a community ribbon cutting opening at 10 am. Light refreshments will be served.

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