Remembering one of LA’s architects: Biddy Mason

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This is the only known photographic portrait of Biddy Mason (1818-1891). “This is a person who was born a slave, was able to create something wonderful and lasting in one of the greatest cities in the world. Her story needs to take up public space and public consciousness,” says Brenda Stevenson, a UCLA professor of history and African American Studies. Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library.

Biddy Mason was born enslaved in the southern U.S., then got moved to California by a plantation owner. She later sued for her freedom and won. 

In LA, she became a medical practitioner who served both Black and white local communities. For 10 years, Mason saved her money until she was finally able to purchase a piece of land on Spring Street in downtown LA and establish a family homestead. 

She also left open tabs at local markets so people could come and get whatever they needed, and risked her life treating prisoners in LA jails during an epidemic.

In 1872, Mason led the founding of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles. She helped build First AME into a cornerstone of the local Black community. It remains so today.  

Sisters Cheryl and Robynn Cox — the great-great-great-great granddaughters of Biddy Mason — are petitioning the City of Los Angeles to name a street after her.