California Was Named After a Black Queen

Originally posted on December 11, 2013

California was named after Queen Califia, a Black Amazon warrior Queen. Spanish writer, Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo, wrote about Queen Califia in 1500 in his novel, Las sergas de Esplandián (The Adventures of Esplandián). Califia is said to have ruled over California, which was inhabited by black women. Whoopi Goldberg even depicted Queen Califia in the Disneyland Film, Golden Dreams.

According to the author of The Adventures of Esplandián:

“Know ye that at the right hand of the Indies there is an island called California, very close to that part of the Terrestrial Paradise, which was inhabited by black women without a single man among them, and they lived in the manner of Amazons. They were robust of body with strong passionate hearts and great virtue. The island itself is one of the wildest in the world on account of the bold and craggy rocks.”

A seven foot high panel of Califia at the Mark Hopkins Intercontinental Hotel in San Francisco was created for the opening of the hotel in 1926, by Maynard Dixon and Frank Von Sloun. Louise Lloyd created a depiction entitled The Naming of California, which can be seen in Sacramento in the Senate Rules Committee Hearing Chamber on the 4th floor of the State Building.

Africa Resource writes:

In 2004, the African American Historical and Cultural Society Museum in San Francisco assembled a Queen Califia exhibit, curated by John William Templeton, featuring works by artists such as TheArthur Wright and James Gayles; artistic interpretations of Califia.

The show displayed a 1936 treatment of Lucille Lloyd’s “California Allegory” triptych, with Queen Califia as the central figure. Templeton said that “Califia is a part of California history, and she also reinforces the fact that African Americans had always been in California.”

“When Cortes named this place California, he had 300 black people with him. And throughout the whole Spanish-Mexican war, 40 percent of the population was black.”

Dr. William E. Hoskins, director of the museum, said that very few people know the story of Queen Califia. He said, “One of the things we’re trying to do is let people have the additional insight and appreciation for the contributions of African Americans to this wonderful country and more specifically to the state of California”.