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February 17, 2014   •   VOL. 52, NO. 4   •   Oakland, CA
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reporting on African Americans

Much like cartoonist Morrie Turner, who died last month, Delilah Leontium Beasley left her mark on African American history by making black history a focus of her life's work. Though they lived decades apart, both worked to ensure that the many contributions made by African Americans in this country's past were not forgotten.

While Turner used the "soul corner" of his cartoon strip for his excursions in black history, Beasley used her gifts as a researcher and writer to show that black people had arrived and been a part of the early history of the state of California.

The California Writers Club and several other sources note that Beasley had an impact in the world of journalism. She admonished newspapers that wrote about black people as "darkies" and other derogatory words, which eventually led the papers to change their ways. She also has been credited with getting the print media to capitalize the word, "Negro."

Little is known about the early years of Beasley's life. The eldest of four children of Daniel and Margaret Beasley, it is believed that she was born in 1867 in Ohio. At the age of 12 she began writing short articles for both the local black and white newspapers. However her journalistic aspirations had to be put aside when her parents died within a period of nine months.

To make enough to live on Beasley worked as a maid for white women. She also took courses to become a hair stylist and a massage therapist. She found work in Chicago and in Springfield, Illinois. When a former client asked Beasley if she would accompany her to California, she jumped at the chance to start a new life.

Beasley arrived in Los Angeles in 1910 but she made her way to Northern California and settled in Oakland. Once she was able find work as a maid and nurse, she was able to also do what she did best, write. She wrote about the African American community for local newspapers that catered to white readers, the Oakland Tribune, as well as black readers, the Oakland Sunshine.

As she wrote more about the black community Beasley became interested in writing about black history. That led her to the Bancroft Library where she frequented to delve into its stash of old newspapers. She also tracked down personal papers and diaries, all kinds of records. She also began to collect oral histories of the older black residents. She began moving in what the website blackpast.org called "black women's club networks."

Eventually Beasley self-published her book, "The Negro Trail Blazers of California," in 1919. The epic book, which provided detailed information of black pioneers as far back as to when Spanish explorers began roaming about the western United States, has been called a great repository of information about black people in California.

Beasley landed a job as a columnist for the Oakland Tribune in the early 1920s, becoming the first African American to work for a major metropolitan newspaper. Her column, "Activities Among Negroes," covered such subjects as "Negro education" to a local celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Beasley continued writing until she died in 1934. Her funeral drew a massive crowd of leaders and everyday people, and was held at Oakland's St. Francis de Sales Cathedral. She is buried at St. Mary's Cemetery.

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