Historical stories of Black wealth tend to be few and far between. Most know of the story of the self-made millionaire Madame C.J. Walker, and amazing as that story is, it seems to be the only mainstream historical story about Black women and wealth. Walker’s story is often portrayed as the exception to the rule — the one unique story out of 100+ years of African American history. Yet, she is not the only Black woman to defeat the odds and gain capital.
Bridget Mason, known as Biddy Mason, is a Black woman who, at one point in time, was one of the wealthiest people in Los Angeles, California. Her life is one of the greatest examples of perseverance and the power of community.
Biddy Mason’s journey from enslavement to freedom
Born into slavery on a plantation in Hancock County, Georgia, on August 15, 1818, Mason took on various jobs and responsibilities. She was a house servant, cattle herder, midwife, and plantation worker. Yet, despite her many roles, she never earned the full respect she deserved. When her enslavers moved across the country to California, Mason had to walk behind the caravan for seven months.
As treacherous as the journey was, it would ultimately be the stepping stone to her freedom. When Mason and her three children arrived in California, it was declared a free state, meaning any enslaved person could become free upon entering the state.
However, Mason didn’t gain her own and her family’s freedom immediately since their enslaver denied them their freedom and kept their imprisonment a secret. Fortunately, Mason met and often spoke with freed Black people who informed her that she could be free.
It was a turn of events that catapulted Mason into taking action. When Mason’s enslaver wanted to move to Texas, she knew that she would never have a chance for freedom if she followed.
Thus, Mason fought for her freedom by suing her enslaver in the 1856 court case Mason v. Smith. Unable to attend court, she had representation during her court date. Different sources tell how this day passed, but the judge presiding over her case took the time to meet with Mason privately to hear her story. Shortly after, the judge granted Mason and her family their freedom.