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Crystal Shepeard – Care2 – Wednesday, 02 2014 (originally published 28 Mar_

Bridget Mason

Bridget (Biddy) Mason Image: Care2

National Women’s History Month began as a movement to bring attention to the amazing women who have shaped the nation. While the achievements of women are becoming more commonly known – even outside of the month of March – the achievements of women of color often get left behind. From surviving slavery to the heights of space, women of color overcame sexism, cultural norms and racism to make the impossible possible.

When people think of slavery and women, landowner isn’t one of the terms that come to mind. However, that is exactly what Bridget “Biddy” Mason became. She was born a slave in Mississippi in 1841 on the plantation of Robert M. Smith. When he converted to Mormonism in 1847, Bridget and her three daughters were taken on the 2.000 mile trek to the Utah territory, during which she served as midwife, nurse maid and herded the cattle. It was after another move to San Bernardino, California that Bridget learned that Mormons did not believe in keeping slaves, not to mention the recently-admitted-to-the-union California was a free state and did not allow slaves. When her owner refused to let her and her daughter go, a lawyer in the black community in Los Angeles helped her petition the court for her ability to win freedom for herself and her daughters in 1856.

She moved to Los Angeles and was able to find work as a midwife and a nurse. Gainful employment and frugality allowed her to save up enough money to buy a plot of land on Spring Street (in what is now downtown Los Angeles) for $250 dollars. She later sold a portion of the lot for $1,500 and built a commercial building and rental spaces on the remaining land.  Her real estate dealings helped her amass a fortune of more than $300,000 – most of which she gave to charities and the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, which she cofounded. First AME was LA’s first black church and continues to this day. Biddy died in 1891. Today a memorial of her achievements can be found near the first plot of land she bought, now the center of downtown Los Angeles’ commercial district . . .

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