Social fabric

Author Jan Batiste Adkins documents African Americans contributions in the South Valley and beyond

Sam McDonald PIONEER MAN Gilroy resident, Sam McDonald of the San Mateo Park by the same name lived a successful life in the Valley. Photo: Courtesy: Stanford Archives

Part of the rich culture of Santa Clara County, African Americans were instrumental in the establishing its first settlements beginning with El Pueblo de San Jose de Guadalupe in 1777.

“African American leaders helped to establish social services,” says author and educator Jan Batiste Adkins. “Many were public service workers, fire department chiefs and superior court justices.”

Released in January 2019, Adkins’ book, “African Americans of San Jose and Santa Clara County,” begins with the establishment of the Pueblo through the 1800s, when Adkins says the first black community was established in North San Jose in 1863 and continuing into the 20th century.

On Feb. 16 Adkins takes guests at the Gilroy Public Library on a review of African American history in the Valley including contributions of Gilroy residents singer Ivie Anderson and Sam McDonald.

“The African Americans who migrated to San Jose came as laborers, looking for agricultural work, some came to establish farms,” says Adkins.

Adkins has authored two other books “African Americans of San Francisco” (2012) and “African Americans of Monterey County” (2015).

“Many African American, through the struggle of establishing homes and families in the Valley, were able to rise to high levels of success in technology, industry and government,” says Adkins.

In sharing her books, Adkins hopes children will get a broader sense of history and that “ people will have a greater appreciation for each other.”

Meet Jan Batiste Adkins on Feb. 16 from 10-11:30am at Gilroy Library Community Room, 250 W. Sixth Street. For details, visit

Debra Eskinazi
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About Debra Eskinazi
Debra Eskinazi is the editor of South Valley magazine.