Mark Oliver, who directed and co-produced the award-winning documentary “From the Quarters to Lincoln Heights,” has received funding from California Humanities for a new project, “Voices of the Golden Ghosts.”
Twenty thousand dollars in funding was received by Shasta Historical Society, the 501(c)(3) sponsor for the project.
Oliver said he will be working with Lisa Giola at the Siskiyou County Museum and Patrick Brunmeier, a cultural anthropologist living in Mt. Shasta, along with local citizens who wish to participate in telling the story.
As described in a Shasta Historical Society press release, the project will document the story of “one of the largest gold mining events of the 19th century... which took place in the mountains of Northern California, bringing miners from all corners of the globe to the region. By 1853, over 2,000 men of African American decent, both free and enslaved, were working in the ‘Negro Mines’ of Northern California.”
Oliver says he has always been inspired by the story of Alvin Coffey, who came to Old Shasta, Calif., as a slave in the 1850s and gained his freedom and became one of California’s important citizens, creating schools and retirement facilities for the elderly.
The project has been on Oliver’s mind since 2009 when he went through the microfilm files at the College of the Siskiyous library and checked the early census records in Siskiyou County from the 1850s.
Oliver said he “found that there were many African Americans in Yreka, Scott Valley and Old Shasta who were working in the mining industry,” as he writes in a release about his new project. He later found mine sites on old maps with names attributed to African Americans.
“This is basically an unknown part of our history here in Northern California,” Oliver states in the release. “There are only a couple of photos of Black miners in collections.”
Oliver directed “From the Quarters to Lincoln Heights” in 2011, a film he produced with James Langford. The two spent a good part of a year interviewing more than 60 members from the communities of Weed, Mt. Shasta and McCloud on the history of African Americans in the logging industry and documenting the social circumstances that “Negro Workers” experienced while living and working in these communities.
That film was shown throughout California and had many screenings on the East Coast, where it won an award in the North Carolina Black Film Festival. It also won an award in the Berlin Black International Cinema Film Festival in Germany.
It, too, was initiated by a grant from California Humanities.
Shasta Historical Society said the Humanities For All Project Grant it received “is a competitive grant program of California Humanities which supports locally-developed projects that respond to the needs, interests, and concerns of Californians, provide accessible learning experiences for the public, and promote understanding among our state’s diverse population.”
For two years, Oliver said he read all that he could find on the subject and presented the project to Cal Humanities in 2015. The grant was turned down but Cal Humanities encouraged him to reapply which he did.
Oliver says he will “take his research and reach out to the communities of Redding and Mt. Shasta, Weed, etc., to find people who will want to take part in the project. The goal is to prepare short theatrical acts that demonstrate what life was like in the mining fields for African Americans. It is estimated that by 1855 there was around 2,000 African American miners in Northern California mines. This project will provide opportunities for community members to learn about the realities of life in the Northern California mines as it related to African Americans.”
If you’re an actor or have never had any acting experience but have an interest in this project, Oliver asks that you contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and 530-859-3316.
Cal Humanities funded project in Shasta and Siskiyou Counties
“These projects will bring the complexity and diversity of California to light in new ways that will engage Californians from every part of our state, and will help us all understand each other better,” said Julie Fry, President and CEO of California Humanities. “We congratulate these grantees whose projects will promote understanding and provide insight into a wide range of topics, issues, and experiences.”
California Humanities promotes the humanities – focused on ideas, conversation and learning – as relevant, meaningful ways to understand the human condition and connect us to each other in order to help strengthen California. California Humanities has provided grants and programs across the state since 1975.
To learn more visit www.calhum.org or follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
For more about Shasta Historical Society, see www.shastahistorical.org