So here's the story: During the 1850s Kentucky-born John Ballard moved to Agoura in the Santa Monica Mountains and set up house and trade. He and his family joined the 60 other black residents of Los Angeles County which, then, only had a population of 4000. Without question Ballard was a L.A. pioneer. He survived the spiritually and physically challenging institution of slavery, traveled across the country by wagon, purchased land overlooking Malibu, founded the town's first African Methodist Episcopal church, and made a few coins blacksmithing and selling lumber. Like my dad, I relish in stories of black men who triumph against every odd imaginable. And this one's a beaut.
The story continues: The arrival of the railroad upped property values and newly-arriving white settlers wanted Ballard and his family out. [You don't say!] They burned his house and harrassed him day and night until he finally moved 50 miles away and purchased 300-plus acres. The new settlers named the area Nigger-head Mountain in his honor [or in honor of their racist victory]. And Nigger-head is what appears on all government documents. But in the 1960s some embarrased [or progressive] official decided Negro-head would be a bit more appropriate lest the Black Panthers come up from the city and demand some explanation. [I'm kidding, of course, but who knows]. Now the county officials have made some new demands: the area should be renamed John Ballard Mountain, you know, because that's the name of the man who pioneered it.
Keith Josef Adkins is an award-winning playwright, screenwriter and social commentator.