Biddy Mason is Born

Bridget (“Biddy”) Mason was born a slave on a Mississippi plantation. When her owner, Robert M. Smith, became a Mormon convert in 1847, Mason and her three daughters joined his family on a 2,000-mile trek to the Utah Territory during which Mason was responsible for herding the cattle, preparing the meals and serving as midwife. Four years later, Smith moved his household to San Bernardino County, Calif., where Brigham Young was starting a Mormon community. California being a free state, Mason and her daughters petitioned the court for their freedom, which was granted in 1856.

Mason moved to Los Angeles where she worked as a nurse and midwife. A decade after gaining her freedom, she had saved enough to buy a site on Spring Street for $250, thereby becoming one of the first African-American women to own land in Los Angeles. In 1884, she sold part of the property for $1,500 and built a commercial building on the remaining land. Over the years, her wise business and real estate transactions enabled her to accumulate a fortune of almost $300,000. Mason gave generously to charities, visited jail inmates, and provided food and shelter for the poor of all races.

When Mason died in 1891 she was buried in an unmarked grave at Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights. Nearly a century later, on March 27, 1988, in a ceremony attended by Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and 3,000 members of the FAME Church, a tombstone was unveiled which marked her grave for the first time.