Dawn Basciano’s ancestors arrived five generations ago in Coloma, California, as enslaved people, forced to leave behind an infant son enslaved to another family in Missouri.
Those ancestors, Nancy and Peter Gooch, were freed in 1850 when California joined the union as a free state, and 20 years later, their son and his family were able to join them in the fertile agricultural land north-east of Sacramento. Their journey west was funded by the sweat and hard work of Nancy, who grew and sold fruit, mended clothes and cooked for the local miners.
Nancy and her descendants would go on to purchase more than 400 lush acres of farmland in Coloma. But what should have been a story of triumph ended instead as a tale all too familiar to formerly enslaved Black Americans across the US. The state of California seized the majority of that land under the guise of eminent domain to build a state park, and the family never received just compensation.