Voices of the Golden Ghosts

Voices of the Golden Ghosts

  Auburn Ravine, Ca 1850's                                                                             courtesy of California State Library  

In the mountains of Northern California, in Shasta and Siskiyou Counties, one of the largest gold mining events of the 19th century occurred. Within a few years of the first discovery of gold, miners had arrived from all corners of the globe. Among those arriving in the west were a significant number of African Americans. In fact by 1852 over 2,000 men of African American descent were in the California gold fields. However, today little is ever mentioned about the free and enslaved black men and women who lived in the northern California wilderness by pick and shovel. 

Through the lens of contemporary storytelling, theater, photography, music and video we will reconstruct the lives of these African Americans. Through collaboration with history professionals, local artists, and performers we will work with African American communities in Shasta and Siskiyou Counties to tell the story of migration and of the experience working in often remote mines. This project will finally provide opportunities for members of the African American community to assert “their” story. 

My Name is Mark Oliver, I am an artist and filmmaker living in Mount Shasta (way up north), California. I have always made it a priority to learn about where I live. To make art or research history you have to be a curious person. That curiosity inspired a documentary I made with James Langford, "From the Quarters to Lincoln Heights," in 2011 (fromthequarters.com). During that project I  stumbled upon records, some of the first recordings of our state, at the beginning of the gold rush. I found there were many entries of African Americans between 1850 and 1860! After reading all I could find on this subject I realized few histories mentioned African Americans as part of the gold rush in far northern California. Five years later and with funding from Cal Humanities we are a few months away from our first public presentation of "Voices of the Golden Ghosts."

This will be the first ever public presentation of this information. A number of books and sources describe African Americans in the Gold Rush but none mention the far north, all the accounts are taken from the Sierra's, east of the Sacramento River. In fact this is one of just a few photos of African Americans in the gold digging. The absence of documentation creates this deception that they were not here. Our aim is to change that.

This project is unique; local community members will tell this story.  Actors on our stage will preform vignettes highlighting the experience of African Americans as they traveled to and worked in the Siskiyou gold fields. For most it will be their first time on stage. This project will not only uncover hidden history, it will provide an opportunity for actors and community members to engage with the past drawing on their contemporary experiences, opening pathways to understanding and healing.

Our event on April 6th will feature historians and authors who's presentations will broaden our knowledge of the social and political environment African Americans faced in the 1850s. Speakers include Rick Moss, retired Director/Curator of the Oakland African American Museum, Shelia Alden Roberts, author of "Mining for Freedom" and Sharon McGriff-Payne who wrote "John Grider's Century."

Your contributions will go towards turning live stage presentations into a video for web publication, and use in schools and museums. We hope to preform our live production at other venues in California but will need travel expenses to make this possible. We are at the beginning of our long term goal turning this into a short film. The quality of of production is limited by the funds we raise. Please help us make a big funding impact before our April 6th performance and beyond.

$10.     our friend
$25.     you're awesome
$50      gets you front row in our April 6th performance
$100   you are listed as a supporter and a front row seat
$250   all the above and invite to our after party
$500   all the above and your logo is included on our advertising 

Thank you for taking the time to read this and watch our video. Be apart of history in the making and make a pledge of any amount. Corporate supporters may contact us regarding sponsorship opportunities.

This project was made possible with support from California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Visit  www.calhum.org.

Donations ()

  • Ken Marrow 
    • $50 
    • 4 mos
  • Wun Yip 
    • $20 
    • 7 mos
  • Chris Fazzari 
    • $50 
    • 7 mos
  • Robin Mayer  
    • $25 
    • 8 mos
  • Christine Lincoln 
    • $35 
    • 10 mos
See all


Mark Oliver 
Mount Shasta, CA
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