December 5, 2019
In 1900, just four years after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation in the Plessy v. Ferguson case — and decades before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — Alice Ballard, an African American woman and daughter of formerly enslaved people, owned 160 acres in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Little has been known about this groundbreaking woman and her life, but CSUN alumnus Austin Ringelstein ’16 (M.A., Public Archaeology), with the help of James Snead, a professor of anthropology, and several current students in the CSUN Department of Anthropology, are working to tell her story.
“For a 30-year-old African American woman to receive 160 acres at the height of the Jim Crow period is remarkable,” Ringelstein said, referencing the Jim Crow laws, first enforced in the 1870s and requiring segregation based on race.
Not long after graduation, Ringelstein was hired by the National Park Service and asked to look into the history and heritage of African Americans in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, a job he was eager to take up. The objective of the project was to document the African American struggle to gain equal rights as citizens in the Santa Monica Mountains.