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Queen Califia a Black woman with her Amazons The Naming of California

 Posted by Reunionblackfamily. on May 28, 2012 at 7:45 PM


Long before there was a United States, there was a myth that affected the naming of California, the myth of Califia, a black female Amazon queen.

Califia’s life and land “at the right hand of the Indies” were described in a novel written about 1510, by Garcia Ordonez Rodriguez de Montalvo, a Spanish writer, and was entitled “Las Serges des Esplandian”. To some extent, this document helped to precipitate the Spanish hunt for gold in North America. In fact, thirty years later, when the explorer Cortes landed with his crew in what is known today as Baja California, it is said that he announced to his men (of which 300 were of African descent) that they had arrived in Califia’s land. By 1770, the entire Pacific coast controlled by Spain had been given the name California, and the Spanish speaking people who lived there were called Californios. A portion of the original of this document was translated by Edward Everett Hale for The Antiquarian Society, and the story was printed in the Atlantic Monthly magazine in 1864.

The best known depictions of Queen Califia are murals done by well known artists. One seven foot high panel showing Califia as a Black woman with her Amazons is in The Room of the Dons at the Mark Hopkins Intercontinental Hotel in San Francisco, and was created for the opening of the hotel in 1926, by Maynard Dixon and Frank Von Sloun. Another famous depiction, created by Louise Lloyd and entitled “The Naming of California”, can be seen in Sacramento in the Senate Rules Committee Hearing Chamber on the 4th floor of the State Building.

As I think about the contributions of real women of African descent to our history, I am proud of the roles we have played in this nation, even when many of those stories are as yet untold.

We are women of many facets and identities, and the term “African-American” today encompasses not only those African ancestored women born here, but also women who have migrated here from the Caribbean, the African continent, South and Central America.


I am not pleased by the way we are still stereotyped by racist misogynists, who use these memes to denigrate us, and re-enforce lies about our agency and role in history.



Sister Citizen, Melissa Harris Perry

One of the most recent books to address this is Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America, by Melissa Harris Perry.



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