"Red" Rogers: Anaheim Pioneer
Whereas narratives of Los Angeles emphasize the continual presence of people of African descent in its history - from Spanish settlement to Mexican California to early black migration from the American East - Orange County shares no such record. Traditionally, the dearth of black residents has been explained by the county’s proximity to Los Angeles’ larger black community, the difficulty of navigating to the region via the railroad, or the lack of particular jobs often made available to African Americans. African Americans were not needed in the agricultural industry given the accessibility to Asian and Mexican labor. However, upon closer examination, it becomes clear that active forces also contributed to the development patterns of Orange County’s black community. Over the years, while Orange County’s black population remained stagnant, surrounding counties - Los Angeles, San Diego, Riverside, and San Bernardino - saw increases.
The story of Orange County’s black community is a story of impermanence and transience. Although black Americans made attempts to travel West, perhaps carrying their own dreams of opportunity, in Orange County, very few were given the chance to settle and become pioneers. Rather, these sojourners came and went, often consigned to oblivion.
One of the earliest recorded black sojourners to the Orange County area was “Red” Rogers, a Negro who attempted to settle in Anaheim during the early 1860s and who was believed to be contraband of the South during the American Civil War. According to local recollection, “Red” Rogers moved to the town of Anaheim to find a home, but after living there for several months, local white residents conspired to be rid of him. “Red” had caused no trouble, but as a Negro, he attracted the disdain of his neighbors. One day, “Red” entered a saloon for a drink and was followed in by a group of local white men. When he asked for a drink, the white bartender refused to serve him and shooed him away. As “Red” made to leave the saloon, the white men who followed him in stopped his retreat, pretended to be his allies, and encouraged him to challenge the bartender to duel for dishonoring him. Little did “Red” know that his friends and the bartender had conspired and planned the whole affair, and the weapons did not contain real bullets. The duel commenced with the word, “Fire.” Both men - “Red” and the bartender - shot at one another. As the bartender fell to the ground, he pretended to writhe in pain until bystanders hurriedly carried him from the field. Knowing of this farce, a group of white onlookers surrounded him in apparent anger, until his false friends from the bar insisted that he flee from the town lest he by lynched. In a panic, “Red” fled Anaheim, abandoning his wagon eleven miles outside of town, and was never seen or heard from again. Thus, Orange County rid itself of its first black resident. In effect, the locals did not have to resort to physical violence to maintain the region’s racial order. The threat of violence was enough.