Arianne Edmonds and Jefferson Edmonds: an LA Upstander Family

Posted by Gayle Cole on May 2, 2019

Arianne Edmonds has upstanding in her DNA. Her great, great grandfather:

  • testified at a Congressional hearing despite threats of violence
  • started one of the early newspapers in Los Angeles for the Black community
  • advocated directly for increased voter registration by African Americans

Facing History and Ourselves sat down with Arianne at the California African American Museum on April 29, 2019 to discuss her journey to bring the story of Jefferson Lewis Edmonds to more people.  

440px-Jefferson_Lewis_Edmonds_Photo_from_the_Liberator_(Los_Angeles)Jefferson was born enslaved in the South. After Emancipation he went on to become an educator who petitioned for voting rights and fought against Jim Crow laws.  (His description of voter intimidation and murder is quoted in The Reconstruction Era and The Fragility of Democracy.) When his efforts were met with violence and threats, he moved from Mississippi to Los Angeles for more opportunity, launching his newspaper as just one way to promote and encourage the growth of the city’s Black community. He also farmed, worked in real estate, and ran Sunday salons, where people could gather to read and share papers from their hometowns.

The Liberator was heavily circulated not just among Black families in Los Angeles, but also in the South, in order to recruit others to relocate. Among other things, Edmonds featured politics, business, and acts of heroism, such as an account of an elevator operator who risked his own life to rescue people from a burning building. “We can accomplish a lot things within the Black community, but until we see reflections of ourselves, until we are able to know about our home, there will be a piece of us that is yearning, that is searching,” Arianne said.

Arianne grew up hearing a little about The Liberator, but like with many family stories that are steeped in trauma, the details fell away over time. Ten years ago she set out to learn more with the help of her father, who had copies of the newspapers that his grandfather had preserved in bound books. Various other family members supported Arianne’s research, and allowed her to interview them. “I am not doing this by myself,” she said, “My grandfather is helping, he left notes for us. This is an intergenerational project.” She encouraged everyone to learn from their lineage, to interview the generations that came before them while there is still time. “Our future is so connected to the stories our elders have not told us,” she said.

Arianne and her father looked for partnerships that would make The Liberator freely accessible. “We met with many people who wanted to put this away in special collections and protect it,” she says. “But it means nothing if no one can see this, and see themselves.”

With that goal, Arianne collaborated with the California African American Museum to curate a temporary exhibit of The Liberator, the newspaper Jefferson founded and edited between 1900 and 1914.  JL Edmonds project also entered into agreement with the Los Angeles Public Library to digitize all available editions of the publication in which he chronicled the development of our city’s Black population at the turn of the Twentieth Century.

Arianne said Jefferson was born in a generation that saw major changes in our country, and he benefited from those changes. He wanted to make sure that this country kept its word. He also loved his adopted city, Los Angeles, and wanted the community here to feel like anything could be accomplished. Clearly that desire to inspire the best in others was inherited by his great, great granddaughter, now a proud fifth generation Angeleno and an #LAUpstander in her own right.

Teachers: Arianne will be speaking with Facing History educators again at our June seminar on Teaching To Kill a Mockingbird.

Explore Jefferson’s history!

Topics: Reconstruction, Upstanders, Los Angeles, Upstander, Slavery

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