Allensworth, California
by Mary Langer Thompson

This dream town is left
to parched ghosts whose
promised water rights
vaporized near tracks
bypassed by trains that
refused to stop
for former slaves
or their leader,
murdered under
muddy wheels.

I look through foggy windows of a
cash store with no cash
schoolhouse with no students
church with silent bells,
no dry-mouthed choir
to sing Amazing Grace.

Leaving on the rough,
two-lane road
toward Route 99,
thunderheads appear.
I see the sign,
“Subject to flooding.”

Previously published in Literary Bohemian and the Friends of Allensworth website.

PHOTO: Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park, Allensworth California (Tulare County), by Bobak Ha’Eri, used by permission.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Allen Allensworth (1842-1914), born into slavery in Kentucky, escaped during the American Civil War (1861-1865) and became a Union soldier — and was the first African American to reach the rank of lieutenant colonel. In 1908, he established Allensworth, California, the only town in the state to be founded, financed, and governed by African Americans. His vision for the town was to enable African Americans to own property, learn, thrive, and live the American Dream. Allensworth’s reputation as a leader drew people from across the United States. By 1910, the area hosted California’s first African American school district. With the death of Colonel Allensworth in 1914, the town experienced extreme losses, coupled with severe drought, and decreased crop yields. Many residents left the area following World War I (1914-1918), and the town of Allensworth was scheduled for demolition in 1966 when arsenic was found in the water supply.The town was memorialized as a state park in 1974, and hosts yearly events to preserve its history.

PHOTO: Colonel Allen Allensworth (1842-1914), founder of Allensworth, California.

historic days
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I first discovered Allensworth, California, in 2008. Founded by Colonel Allen Allensworth, born a slave in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1842, the town was established exclusively by African Americans in 1908. I was so moved by my visit that I wrote the poem after doing some research. There are homes, a schoolhouse, church, and several buildings still standing. My poem was previously published by Literary Bohemian and was on the Friends of Allensworth website. Whether Allensworth, who was hit by a motorcycle on a visit to the Los Angeles area, was murdered or it was an accident has never been decided. I have always wanted to revisit this now state park, next time by train, and on Juneteenth.

PHOTO: Each year, Friends of Allensworth hosts a variety of events, including historical re-enactments, to preserve its legacy. (Photo courtesy of Friends of Allensworth.)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mary Langer Thompson is a retired school principal and former English teacher who now writes full time. In 2012, she was the Senior Poet Laureate of California. She leads The Poemsmiths, a poetry critique group that meets biweekly, currently on Zoom.