How the Negrohead mountain was named after LA black pioneer and firewood salesman, John Ballard

Michael Eli Dokosi July 22, 2020
John Ballard via

John Ballard was a former enslaved African-American from Kentucky, who became a leader of the Los Angeles black community (1850s–1870s). That was before the railroad boom attracted more whites to the region.

John and wife Amanda Ballard were the first African Americans to settle in the hills above Malibu called Negrohead Mountain, which was later renamed Ballard Mountain.

Ballard’s wealth and influence “illustrates the early opportunities for black Angelenos in institution-formation, political activism, property ownership, and economic success.”

Ballard was a blacksmith, a teamster, and a firewood salesman. He arrived in Los Angeles as a free man with his family in 1859 and earned enough money to acquire 320 acres near Seminole Hot Springs. The family later moved near Santa Monica. He was active in civic affairs.

“He helped found the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles; the services were first held in 1872 in the home of co-founder Biddy Mason.”

Ballard’s family was sometimes harassed in their mountain home to run them out of the area. But they would not budge not even when their house was burnt down to force them out.

When the arrival of the railroad triggered a land boom in Los Angeles in the 1880s, and the beginning of segregation, “Ballard packed up his family and moved about 50 miles west to the snug valley in the middle of the Santa Monica range. He settled first on 160 acres — space that eventually doubled in size when one of his seven children, daughter Alice, claimed an adjoining plot.”

Besides raising livestock and a few crops, Ballard collected firewood in the nearby mountains and sold it in Los Angeles. He also worked at blacksmithing and other chores on the Russell Ranch, a sprawling cattle spread at what is now Westlake Village.

“John, and Amanda, who was born in Texas, first appear in the 1860 U.S. Federal Census. The couple had seven children according to the 1870 Census, all of whom were born in California.”

By 1900, John Ballard had lost his wife and was sharing his home with daughter Alice and two grandsons.

In 2009, the mountain where Ballard and his family resided was renamed Ballard Mountain from Santa Monica peak to reflect the pioneering presence of the Ballards. Born in 1830, the pioneering Californian businessman died in 1905.

Last Edited by:Kent Mensah Updated: July 22, 2020


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