Entrepeneur Biddy Mason

Biddy MasonBiddy Mason: From [Enslaved] to Entrepreneur

On August 15, 1818, Bridget “Biddy” Mason was born in Mississippi. Once an illiterate African-American slave who worked as a nurse/midwife, she walked from Mississippi to California to become a successful entrepreneur and a generous contributor to social causes.

Mason was born on a plantation owned by Robert Marion Smith and Rebecca (Crosby) Smith. In 1847, Smith became a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and decided to move with his household and slaves to the Utah Territory, where Brigham Young was starting a Mormon community. In this strenuous 2,000-mile cross-country trek, Mason was responsible for herding the cattle. She also prepared meals, acted as a midwife, and took care of her own children. In 1851, Smith moved his household again, this time to San Bernardino, California.

At this time Mason had made friends in the Los Angeles Black community, and one of them (Charles Owens) helped Mason petition the court; in 1856, she won freedom for herself and for her daughters, and she moved to Los Angeles and found employment as a nurse and midwife. Hard work and her nursing skills allowed her to become economically independent. She became a domestic to Dr. John S. Griffin, who served most of the Los Angeles area. Mason was also very frugal, and only ten years after gaining her freedom, she bought a site on Spring Street for $250, becoming one of the first Black women to own land in Los Angeles. This site is now in the center of the commercial district in the heart of the city.

In 1884, Mason sold a parcel of the land for $1,500 and built a commercial building with spaces for rental on the remaining land. She continued making wise decisions in her business and real estate transactions. and her financial fortunes continued to increase until she accumulated a fortune of almost $300,000. Her grandson, Robert Curry Owens, a real estate developer and politician, was at one time the richest African-American in Los Angeles.

Mason was a founding member of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1872. She also gave generously to various charities and provided food and shelter for the poor of all races; in addition, she never forgot the jail inmates that she visited often. In 1872 she and her son-in-law, Charles Owens, founded and financed the Los Angeles branch of the First African Methodist Episcopal church, the first Black church in Los Angeles.

Biddy Mason died January 15, 1891, and was buried in an unmarked grave at Evergreen cemetery in the Boyle Heights area of Los Angeles. Nearly a century later, on March 27, 1988, a tombstone that marked her grave for the first time was unveiled in a ceremony attended by Mayor Tom Bradley and approximately 3,000 members of the First African Methodist Episcopal church.

Thursday, November 16, 1989, was declared Biddy Mason Day, and a memorial of her achievements was unveiled at the Broadway Spring Center located between Spring Street and Broadway at Third Street in Los Angeles.

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6 comments on “Entrepeneur Biddy Mason

  1. TrojanPam says:

    Thanks for posting this story!

    Black people have always been a resourceful people, able to create greatness out of very little.
    Unfortunately, integration and dependency on whites and immigrants has neutralized a lot of that can-do spirit we once had.

  2. This what happens when we are allowed to do what we do. Our history has shown that when we have ourselves to rely on, we soar.

    There are several examples of us doing our own thing and making it. Seeing this, our oppressor got smart and started this integration move. We thinking; owww we can now do what they do, and eat where they eat, while still being hated. This was like Wal-Mart coming into a community. It wiped us out. We started shopping at white shops and eating at white restaurants because it meant something to an oppressed people to eat and shop next to our oppressors. Then it was considered better to go over there than to stay here. Live over there rather than live here. The ones that could moved and ones that couldn’t stayed and it just so happens that the ones that stayed were not as solid. And this is what we have today. That and of course other things that happened to us like welfare; the biggest weapon they had to break up the Black family.

    Did I digress? I’m sorry.

    Thank you sis for the story.

    P.S. and make no mistake, the very worst thing that happened to Black people in Amerika is integration and religion.

  3. honeytreebee says:

    Iteresting how we now are the only group that is actively and aggessively attacked for even attempting to have their own. I have seen the black babershops, bookstore, resteraunts, and so forth out here be forced to close. It is not an issue of success here actually they will use your success against you like raising your property taxes so high you can pay them and are forced to sale after you have improved the property. That is what they did with the historic painted ladies out here houses that black men built and named after their daughters and wives. Or urban renewal which they used to take black property and gave out worthless pieces of paper claiming the whole neighborhood was a blight only to have rich white people move in. Now they are pushing black folk out and trying to show case jazz and other black music at the same time. It is failing as they can not nuture anything only take and watch it wither and die like detroit. We will rise again I just think they’ll have to die back a bit before we do, but it is coming soon.

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