Negrohead Mountain

The Los Angeles Times has an interesting article about a mountain in Los Angeles County called Negrohead Mountain.

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The mountain is named after John Ballard, a former slave and pioneering black settler. Ballard was the first black man to settle in Augora, California near Malibu.

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A heightened profile for one of L.A.’s black pioneers

Early settlers in the Agoura area named Negrohead Mountain after John Ballard, a former slave who moved there in the 1880s. Now L.A. County wants to put Ballard’s actual name on the 2,031-foot peak.

By Bob Pool

Negrohead Mountain is an unlikely memorial to a former slave who made a name for himself at the western end of Los Angeles County.

More than 120 years ago, pioneers in the Santa Monica Mountains named the peak for John Ballard, the first black man to settle in the hills above Malibu.

Today, authorities will take the first step toward what they consider a more fitting tribute by renaming the 2,031-foot volcanic peak Ballard Mountain.

The name now used by the U.S. Geological Survey is a refinement of the slur then used by pioneers when referring to Ballard — a well-known blacksmith and teamster who put down roots on 320 acres near what is now the community of Seminole Hot Springs.

Ballard was a former Kentucky slave who had won his freedom and come to Los Angeles in 1859. In the sleepy, emerging city, he had a successful delivery service and quickly became a landowner. Soon he was active in civic affairs: He was a founder of the city’s first African Methodist Episcopal Church.

The arrival of the railroad triggered a land boom in Los Angeles in the 1880s, boosting property values and bringing the city its first sense of class structure and the beginnings of segregation.

Ballard packed up his family and moved about 50 miles west to the snug valley in the middle of the Santa Monica range. He settled first on 160 acres — space that eventually doubled in size when one of his seven children, daughter Alice, claimed an adjoining plot.

Besides raising livestock and a few crops, Ballard collected firewood in the nearby mountains and sold it in Los Angeles.

He also worked at blacksmithing and other chores on the Russell Ranch, a sprawling cattle spread at what is now Westlake Village. He would travel by mule or buggy several miles through Triunfo Canyon to get there.

An effort has been made by some folks to rename the mountain peak Ballard Mountain. One of the folks making that effort remembers older residents talking about the mountain but instead of using negro, they use the “n” word.

The effort to rename the peak was launched by two contemporary residents who live on either side of the peak’s base.

Nick Noxon, a 72-year-old retired National Geographic TV producer, first learned of Ballard when he found a copy of Russell’s book in the Agoura Public Library. He and his friend Paul Culberg, 66, a retired video executive, would eventually lobby county officials to initiate a formal name change.

Culberg recalled how longtime residents had mentioned Negrohead Mountain when he and his wife, Leah, moved to the area 34 years ago. Except back then, the old-timers were still using the slur instead of “negro.” The slur appears on early government topographic maps of the Santa Monica Mountains.

When Noxon met Moorpark College history instructor Patty Colman at a National Park Service event and she revealed more of Ballard’s L.A. history to him, he recruited her to the “Ballard Mountain” campaign.

You can read the entire article here.

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