Biddy Mason, who was born a slave and died a millionaire, was an outstanding figure of the 19th century. Biddy Mason was named “the first African American real estate mogul.“ She owned valuable property in downtown Los Angeles worth nearly 8 million dollars by today’s value. Biddy Mason was also a well-known philanthropist. She founded an orphanage, a school, and First AME Church in LA.
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Hello, I'm Bonnie Boswell, here in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles on property once owned by Biddy Mason.
Biddy Mason was an African American woman who started her life as a slave.
But she became a businesswoman, a mogul, and ended up owning lots of property in Downtown LA.
This is Spring Street between Third and Fourth Street today.
Biddy Mason bought lots here in 1866 for $250.
Money she'd saved from work as a midwife and nurse.
And she continued to buy and sell land, making her one of the wealthiest women in Los Angeles.
Brenda Stevenson is a Professor of History and African American Studies at UCLA.
She owned several lots in Downtown Los Angeles today it'd be worth about 8 million dollars.
Biddy Mason was born a slave around 1818 in Mississippi.
She had learned how to be a midwife.
Her white master decided to move to Utah.
And then her master decides to move to California.
But Biddy Mason finds out she can gain her freedom by living in California.
She sues for her freedom and... she wins it.
Pio Pico, one of the governors of Los Angeles, he was one of her mentors.
She was advised to buy real estate.
Cheryl Cox is Biddy Mason's Fourth Grade Granddaughter.
She saw the importance of owning something.
I think she did have a lot of partnerships.
She was a leader in her community but she led her community by her service to the community.
She built schools, she opens a biggest African American church.
Biddy Mason founded First AME Church, a school and an orphanage.
Today she is remembered not just for her financial success but for her philanthropy.
Grandma Biddy always said, 'an open hand is blessed for it gives in abundance, even as it receives.'
And I think by treating others well, she felt so blessed to be able to help others, she was rewarded as well.
To hear more stories like this, watch BOSS: The Black Experience in Business, Tuesday, April 23 at 8:00pm on PBS SoCal.
I'm Bonnie Boswell.