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Beasley, Delilah Leontium (1867–1934) - African-American History

california black writing library

Delilah Leontium Beasley rose from masseuse to one of the foremost authorities on black history in California. She was believed to have been born around 1867 in Cincinnati, Ohio, to Daniel Beasley, probably a semi-skilled worker, and Margaret (Heines) Beasley. She had a promising beginning as an adolescent, publishing a piece of her writing in the Cleveland Gazette when she was twelve and then writing a column called “Mosaics” in the Sunday Cincinnati Enquirer . She learned newspaper work at the Colored Catholic Tribune while still in her teens. When both her parents died within nine months of each other, she was forced to take a job as a domestic for a judge, then moved to Chicago, where she enjoyed a successful career as a masseuse.

During her spare time, Beasley frequented private libraries, trying to learn all she could about black history. She was particularly interested in the history of blacks in California and moved there in 1910 as a nurse and therapist to a former patient. She began examining all the California newspapers at the Bancroft Library Archives at the University of California at Berkeley from 1848 to the 1890s and all the black newspapers, from the first in 1855 through 1919. Beasley inspected records throughout the state and recorded oral histories. Despite a serious illness, monetary help from friends allowed her to complete her research and publish The Negro Trail Blazers of California in 1919.

Beasley began lecturing on black history and wrote seven articles in 1915 for the Oakland Tribune , which had protested the stereotypes contained in the movie The Birth of a Nation . Through a column, “Activities Among Negroes,” she campaigned for black dignity and rights. In addition to her writing, Beasley was involved in campaigning to abolish derogatory terms referring to blacks and organized and supported interracial activities. In 1929 she organized a display for Negro History Week at the Oakland Free Library, and it became a yearly celebration.

Delilah Beasley died of arteriosclerotic heart disease in San Leandro, California, on August 18, 1934.

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