BioFile - Allen Allensworth
Allen Allensworth was born into slavery in Louisville, in 1842. At the age of 20, he fled slavery, attaching himself to Union troops. In 1864 he became a civilian nurse in the 44th United States Colored Infantry, and served during the Nashville campaign. Later that year, Allensworth joined the Navy, and served in gunboats on the Mississippi and other western waters. By the end of the war he had risen to petty officer. Allensworth returned to Louisville, where he joined the Fifth Street Baptist Church.
Allensworth attended the Ely Normal School in Louisville and later the Nashville Institute, a newly opened theological college for freedman which is now Roger Williams University of Nashville. Upon completion of his studies he began teaching at a Freedmen’s Bureau school in Kentucky. In 1871 Allensworth was ordained a Baptist minister. Over the next few years he taught at various schools in Kentucky, where he rose to become superintendent of Baptist Sunday schools in the state. Meanwhile, he became active in Republican politics, and served as a presidential elector and delegate to the National Republican Convention.
Meanwhile, in 1886, President Grover Cleveland appointed Allensworth chaplain of the 24th Infantry, one of the Army’s four “Colored” regiments. Over the next 20 years, during which time he was one of only four or five black officers in the entire army, Allensworth followed the regiment through its various posting, serving in New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Montana, to Cuba during the Spanish-American War (1898) and to the Philippines during the Philippine Insurrection (1899-1902), and again in peacetime in 1905-1906. Allensworth retired in 1906, with the rank of lieutenant colonel, the highest rank ever attained by an African-American to that time in the Regular Army.
After leaving the Army, Allensworth settled in Los Angeles, then a sleepy little town of no particular importance. He helped organized a company to assist Blacks who wished to settle in California, and in 1908 created the town of Allensworth, in Tulare County, in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley about thirty miles north of Bakersfield.. The town did not do well. The area was arid, water not yet having been brought in from afar, and the soil was poor.
Allensworth was killed in a motorcycle accident in Los Angeles in 1914. His town gradually died out. The remnants are today a California State Historical Park.