Black history in San Diego

From murals and public artworks to museums and cultural centers, local Black history is all around us.

SD UCSD Sojourner Truth statue

The statue of Sojourner Truth at Marshall College at UC San Diego was created by artist Manuelita Brown (left).

Photo via Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego

Black history in San Diego should be celebrated every day. Across our county, there are many places that reflect the Black experience. Here are eight spots where you can see some of those legacies.

SD World Beat Center Balboa Park

Don’t miss the classes, events, and music at World Beat.

Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

🥁 World Beat Cultural Center | Balboa Park

The brightly colored building on Park Boulevard celebrates all cultures, art, music, and dance through community classes, exhibitions, and events. Tomorrow, the center will host Black Com!x Day to celebrate Black contributions in the world of comics, and on Sunday, Feb. 19, it’ll host its 42nd Tribute to Reggae Legends.

SD SR-94 MLK Mural

The mural can be seen on an embankment along SR-94.

🕊️ MLK Jr. / Mount Hope Community Mural | State Route 94

In 1989, a 10-mile stretch of SR-94 was designated the Martin Luther King Jr. Freeway. Through grant funding, a project to paint a large-scale mural of Dr. King on an embankment along the freeway was completed in 2012. You can see the touching tribute between Home and Euclid avenues.

💪 Sojourner Truth Statue | Marshall College, UC San Diego

In January 2015, Marshall College at UC San Diego unveiled a powerful, 6-ft statue of abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth. Centrally located on Ridge Walk, the campus art piece was created by local artist and UC San Diego alumna Manuelita Brown. The statue includes a plaque with a quote from Truth: “I feel safe in the midst of my enemies, for the truth is powerful and will prevail.”

“Sojourner Truth serves as a drum major for social justice, equity, and voting rights,” Brown told the university at the statue’s unveiling.

📚 Valencia Park/Malcolm X Library | Valencia Park

This facility serves Valencia Park, Lincoln Park, Emerald Hills, and Encanto, and features a performing arts center, meeting rooms, and public art displays. It was renamed the Malcolm X Library in 1991, making it one of the first such buildings named after the human rights activist. Today, it is used as a cultural hub for the community and has a wealth of Black history knowledge on its shelves.

🖼️ San Diego African American Museum of Fine Art | Egger Highlands

This museum collects, preserves, and displays works of art by and about African Americans, and fosters appreciation of those works through educational programs and events. On Saturday, Feb. 25, the museum will collaborate with the San Diego History Center to honor its trailblazing 2023 Keepers of Culture. The event is free, RSVP.

MLK promenade in the Gaslamp Quarter.

MLK promenade in the Gaslamp Quarter. | Photo via Canva

🌳 Martin Luther King Jr. Promenade | Gaslamp Quarter

This peaceful, 0.6-mile linear park in downtown San Diego pays tribute to the civil rights leader through artwork and plaques that line the path. You’ll find 30+ plaques engraved with quotes from Dr. King, plus “Breaking of the Chains,” an art piece by Melvin Edwards commissioned for the park and installed in 1995.

SD Harrison Serenity Ranch

Harrison Serenity Ranch on Palomar Mountain pays homage to local pioneer Nathan Harrison.

⛰️ Harrison Serenity Ranch | Palomar Mountain

This 67-acre working ranch in northeast San Diego County pays homage to the legacy of Nathan Harrison, the region’s first African American homesteader. Formerly enslaved, Harrison came to California during the Gold Rush. He lived in a cabin on Palomar Mountain in the early 1900s, and would often greet travelers who made the trek up the peak. He was known for his charisma and became one of the most photographed pioneers of the time.

📜 San Diego History Center | Balboa Park

Among displays of local history, the center features “Celebrate San Diego: Black History & Heritage,” an unfolding, crowd-sourcing project showcasing local Black voices from the past and present. You can nominate local Black heroes to be added to the exhibition or donate artifacts to the project. The San Diego History Center also has an exhibition dedicated to Nathan Harrison.

Pro tip: The center is hosting its Black History Month Family Day tomorrow focused on the history of Black life in San Diego.

📩 Know of another local place to see Black history? Share the details with us.

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