California Bound: Slavery on the New Frontier, 1848–1865 examines California’s underrecognized involvement with slavery in the 19th century. With powerful photographs, historical documents, and other ephemera, California Bound: Slavery on the New Frontier, 1848–1865 illuminates the state’s struggles over enslavement in an era that encompassed two wars and the establishment of California, first as a territory and then a state.
As discussions over property and ownership took place across the country, California was undecided regarding the bondage of minorities both free and unfree. Federal legislation sanctioned the capture of African Americans nationally through the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, and California reinforced this legislation and extended it to the new frontier within the same decade. Yet, as droves of settlers from the North and South journeyed west seeking wealth and opportunity, the budding judicial system wavered on the issue, leaving minorities in perpetual limbo. The exhibition highlights major historical events and untold stories of those impacted, and it considers how the state’s vacillation on enslavement produced ripple effects in America’s political structures that are still being felt today.