Slavery – San Diego, Then & Now

DSA Night School
November 28, 2023

Did you know that California—including San Diego—has a sordid history rife with slavery? It’s not what you might initially think when you hear the word “slavery.” DSA San Diego’s Education Committee takes a look at San Diego’s history of slavery and how it exists today.


Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, a Portuguese navigator, led a Spanish expedition and discovered a “landlocked and very good harbor.” He named it San Miguel, as it was the feast day of that saint.

Sebastian Vizcaíno, a Spanish-Basque explorer, reached San Diego bay with his expedition of three ships, two hundred men, and three Carmelite friars. He renamed the harbor San Diego, after his flagship and the feast day of the saint occurring two days later.

Father Junípero Serra, a Franciscan friar, and Don Caspar de Portola, a Spanish Capitan, founded the first Spanish colony in Alta California, in present-day San Diego

Father Serra established the Mission San Diego de Alcalá

First meeting of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia – American colonial governments coordinated their resistance to British rule

Kumeyaay warriors burned down the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá, one year after its completion

U.S. Declaration of Independence adopted – the 13 American colonies severed their political connections to Great Britain

Confederation Congress took the reins of government

New U.S. government began operation under the Constitution. Included the Fugitive Slave Clause (Article IV, Sec. 2, Clause 3)

Mexico gains independence from Spain

The 21st and final mission was founded in San Francisco

Mexican Constitution – equality of all citizens, including Indians

Slavery was abolished in the Mexican province of California

Missions became secularized

The Mexican-American War led to the annexation of California by the United States.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo officially ended the Mexican-American War

Gold discovered in California

California Constitutional Convention met to form the first constitution of California

San Diego incorporated as a city

California Act for the Government and Protection of Indians signed into law

An Act for the Admission of the State of California into the Union (part of the Compromise of 1850) passed

Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 (part of the Compromise of 1850) passed

San Diego Tax Rebellion of 1851, aka Garra Uprising – conflict between San Diego Indians and settlers

California Fugitive Slave Act

California amended its 1855 Common School Act to bar “Negroes, Mongolians, and Indians” from public schools

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation

Fugitive Slave Acts repealed

Congress ratified the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery – prison labor exception to emancipation (beginning of prison industrial complex)

Congress ratified the 15th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution affirming the right of all U.S. citizens to vote

President Ulysses S. Grant issued an executive order establishing reservations for several Diegueño bands

Relief for the Mission Indians Act – created reservations for all of the California Indians who had been forced off their lands.

Panama-California Exposition: San Diego and California native cultures are overlooked at the “Indian Village,” which instead focused on Navajo, Hopi, Apache, and other tribes of the Southwest.

President Calvin Coolidge signed the Indian Citizenship Act into law, granting citizenship to Indians born in the U.S.

Governing Body of the International Labour Office met in Geneva and adopted the Forced Labour Convention, 1930, “to suppress the use of forced or compulsory labour in all its forms within the shortest possible period”

Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act – promoted Native-American autonomy by prohibiting allotment of tribal lands, returning some surplus land, and urging tribes to engage in active self-government.

Act for the Government and Protection of Indians repealed

Indians get full right to vote. They are now able to vote for local politicians

Rancheria Act – allowed tribes to vote on a plan to divide communal tribal property into parcels to be distributed to its members. Distributees would receive title to their lands and be free to sell it and be obliged to pay property tax from that time forward. (purpose: assimilation)

The “Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act” passed by Congress

The Native American Environmental Protection Coalition (NAEPC) is founded in Southern California to share common concerns and bring a team effort to the protection, preservation, and restoration of the environment. NAEPC is headquartered in Valley Center.

Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (Trafficking Act) of 2000

President George W. Bush signed the California Mission Preservation Act into law

California voters passed Proposition 35 (the CASE Act), a California Against Slavery citizen initiative with over 81% approval

California AB 1227 (Human Trafficking Prevention Education and Training Act) became law

Governor Gavin Newsom signed Executive Order N-15-19, formally apologizing to all California Native Americans

President Joe Biden signed Senate Bill 475, establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday

Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 1655, establishing Juneteenth as a state holiday

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria and City Council designated Juneteenth an official paid holiday for city employees

Legislation is being advanced to remove “involuntary servitude” from the California state constitution

California voters will decide whether to adopt the proposed amendment if it passes in the California legislature by a two-thirds vote

Sources & Further Reading

International Labor Organization – Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29)

U.S. History

Continental Congress, 1774–1781

The Declaration of Independence, 1776

Constitutional Convention and Ratification, 1787–1789

The day the Constitution was ratified

Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

San Diego History


Photos: Library of Congress  |  California State Library

San Diego Native Tribes

Campo Kumeyaay Nation

A Teacher’s Guide to Historical and Contemporary Kumeyaay Culture, A Supplemental Resource for Third and Fourth Grade Teachers 

Mesa Grande Band of Diegueño Mission Indians – History

San Diego Kumeyaay Tribes – Study on poverty and education related statistics on Kumeyaay reservations in San Diego County 

Museum of Us

1769-1823 Mission Period


Indian Labor at the California Missions Slavery or Salvation?

Untold History: The Survival of California’s Indians 

The dark, terrible secret of California’s missions

Junípero Serra

Sebastian Vizcaíno

Francisco Palóu

Fermín Francisco de Lasuén

Mission San Diego de Alcalá – History

San Diego Mission Church

Indigenous San Diego

Revolting Indians, Passive resistance to colonial rule

Post-Mission Period

A Second Century of Dishonor: Federal Inequities and California Tribes (1996)

University of Oklahoma College of Law Digital Commons
American Indian and Alaskan Native Documents in the Congressional Serial Set: 1817-1899
Mission Indians in California

Secularization of the Missions

“At a meeting of Fitzgerald’s Volunteers…” San Diego Herald (December 5, 1851)


The Garra Uprising: Conflict between San Diego Indians and Settlers in 1851
Evans, William Edward. “The Garra Uprising: Conflict between San Diego Indians and Settlers in 1851.” California Historical Society Quarterly 45, no. 4 (1966): 339–49.

San Diego History: Garra’s Uprising

The Indians of southern California in 1852; the B.D. Wilson report and a selection of contemporary comment.

Free Soil, Unfree Labor: Cave Johnson Couts and the Binding of Indian Workers in California, 1850-1867
MAGLIARI, M. “FREE  SOIL, UNFREE LABOR.” Pacific Historical Review 73, no. 3 (2004): 349–90.

The Trajectory of Indian Country in California: Rancherias, Villages, Pueblos, Missions, Ranchos, Reservations, Colonies, and Villages, Pueblos, Missions, Ranchos, Reservations, Colonies, and Rancherias (2008)

How one author uncovered the fact that California was — and remains — a slave state

How California Became a ‘Slave State’ (links to a video “The Case for Reparations”) 

State of California Native American Heritage Commission – California Indian History

San Diego Indians and the Federal Government Years of Neglect, 1850-1865

Indian Labor In San Diego County, California, 1850-1900,-california,-1850-1900.html

1915-16 Panama California Exposition

Panama-California Exposition – Native Americans Come to Balboa Park

Panama-California Exposition ~ San Diego ~ 1915-1916 (photos)

1915-16 Panama California Exposition, Fr. Serra Memorial


‘It’s Called Genocide’: Newsom Apologizes to the State’s Native Americans (June 19, 2019)

Governor Newsom Issues Apology to Native Americans for State’s Historical Wrongdoings, Establishes Truth and Healing Council (June 18, 2019)

Executive order N-15-19

About the California Truth & Healing Council

An apology to Native Americans was buried in a 2010 defense bill. Now, some want the president to say it aloud. (July 30, 2021)

S. J. RES. 14 – To acknowledge a long history of official depredations and ill-conceived policies by the Federal Government regarding Indian tribes and offer an apology to all Native Peoples on behalf of the United States. (introduced in Senate April 30, 2009; no vote)

California, a “Free State” Sanctioned Slavery


Nathan Harrison was San Diego County’s first black homesteader and a local legend.

Black Pioneers in San Diego 1880 – 1920

Slavery case unfolded in San Diego courtroom 75 years ago (July 5, 2022)

The slavery case in San Diego County riveted the nation (September 22, 2022)

10 Historic Milestones of San Diego’s Black Community

Japanese Americans Revisit Redress to Reparations Task Force (October 7, 2022)

AB 3121: Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans

California is the first state to tackle reparations for Black residents. What that really means

Mayor, City Council Make Juneteenth a Paid Holiday for City Employees (March 21, 2023)

Human Trafficking

Freedom Denied: Forced Labor in California (February 2005)

The Typology of Modern Slavery: Defining Sex and Labor Trafficking in the United States (March 1, 2017)

Sex Trafficking

Action Guide: Trafficking Prevention for LGBTQ+ Communities in San Diego (September 29, 2022)

HIDDEN SLAVES: Forced Labor in the United States (PDF), Human Rights Center, University of California, Berkeley, September 2004, ISBN 0-9760677-0-6, archived from the original (PDF) on August 30, 2007

Fighting Human Trafficking

Human Trafficking Prevention & Intervention

California Against Slavery – About Us

San Diego County District Attorney

2022/2023 San Diego County Grand Jury Report (filed May 23, 2023)
AB 1227 Human Trafficking: The Fight Against Child Trafficking

2018/2019 San Diego County Grand Jury 2018/2019 (filed May 30, 2019)
Human Trafficking: San Diego Needs Essential Services

Final Report – Human Trafficking In California – California Alliance to Combat Trafficking and Slavery Task Force (October 2007)

The Nature and Extent of Gang Involvement in Sex Trafficking in San Diego County (April 2016)

48 people arrested in San Diego after months-long human trafficking investigation (February 22, 2023)

Migrant Laborers

Estimating Labor Trafficking among Unauthorized Migrant Workers in San Diego (2014) 

Zhang, S. X. (2012). Trafficking of Migrant Laborers in San Diego County: Looking for a Hidden Population. San Diego, CA: San Diego State University. 

Horrors of labor trafficking remain hidden with spotlight on sex trafficking (December 1, 2019)
Originally from:

Forced Prison Labor

Federal Prison Industries/UNICOR

Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP)

For $1 an hour, inmates fight California fires. ‘Slave labor’ or self-improvement? (October 20, 2017)

If Prison Workers are Essential, We Should Treat Them Like It: Prison Labor in the US, Part I (August 5, 2020)

Private Companies Producing with US Prison Labor in 2020: Prison Labor in the US, Part II (August 5, 2020)

California and Nevada may ban forced prison labor, servitude (February 16, 2023)

Beyond Juneteenth: The Lingering Reality of Slavery in US Prisons (June 29, 2023)

End Slavery in California (ACA 8)
Report: Captive Labor – Exploitation of Incarcerated Workers (2022)

College panel takes aim at ‘prison-industrial complex’ (November 14, 2019)

Uprooting a culture of Mass Incarceration (January 17, 2020)

Governor Newsom Signs AB 32 to Halt Private, For-Profit Prisons and Immigration Detention Facilities in California (October 11, 2019)

Appellate Court Finds California’s Private Prison Ban Is Likely Unconstitutional (Oct 6, 2022)

California tried and failed to ban for-profit ICE detention centers (June 28, 2023)

California tried and failed to ban for-profit ICE detention centers (July 4, 2023)

Colorado banned forced prison labor 5 years ago. Prisoners say it’s still happening (November 13, 2023)

From Cages to the Community: Prison Profiteers and the Treatment Industrial Complex (March 6, 2018)

Federal Law

Fugitive Slave Laws

Constitution of 1789 – Fugitive Slave Clause (Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3)

An Act Respecting Fugitives from Justice, and Persons Escaping from the Service of Their Masters of 1793 – Fugitive Slave Act of 1793

Compromise of 1850 (1850)

An Act for the Admission of the State of California into the Union (1850)

Emancipation Proclamation (1863)

13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Abolition of Slavery (1865)

15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Voting Rights (1870)

The Dawes Act (1887)

Indian Citizenship Act (1924)

On this day, all American Indians made United States citizens

Indian Reorganization Act (1934)

U.S. Code regarding Indians

25 U.S.C.
United States Code, 2009 Edition
Title 25 – INDIANS

25 U.S.C.
United States Code, 2002 Edition
Title 25 – INDIANS
Sec. 1778 – Congressional findings and purpose

Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000

California Mission Preservation Act (2004)

California State Law

1850 Act for the Government and Protection of Indians

California Fugitive Slave Act of 1852

Common Schools 

1852 Amendment to the California State Education Code: Chapter 53 (An act to establish a System of Common Schools.)

Tape v. Hurley

Human Trafficking

SB-14 Serious felonies: human trafficking. (2023-2024)

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