People in power know the history,” says Jonathan. “Some want to ignore it, which I don't understand. I really don't. Other than, I'll say this: This park was created on supremacy. So to make this park right, you'd have to dismount the whole thing. And that I don't know if California is ready for, but they can start by telling the truth.”

 

Jonathan and Matthew Burgess were born to a legacy of Black landowners who had a significant impact on California's Gold Rush. Their great-great-great grandfather, Rufus M. Burgess was among the early Black settlers. He was an entrepreneur and landowner in the town of Coloma, California. After he died, his property was passed down through generations until the state seized it by eminent domain in 1949 to make room for the Marshall Gold Discovery State Park.

 

The Burgess family contends their ancestors once owned land that today amounts to “half the park.” But there is currently no land ownership in Coloma under the family name and their historical ties are not publicly evident on park grounds. Therein lies the crux of the dispute between park officials and the Burgesses in their effort to obtain both reparations and recognition of their family’s legacy.

The article was first published on February 2022 for National Geographic. Followed by a Q&A with Palabra.

National Geographic - Words by Zaydee Sanchez and Charles Bennett

Palabra - Words and Images by Zaydee Sanchez