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Uncovering History: African American Miners in the North State

A new film project entitled "Voices of the Golden Ghosts" seeks to tell the little known history of the role of African American Miners in the North State during California's 1800 gold rush.

Posted: Jul. 6, 2018 8:02 AM
Updated: Jul. 6, 2018 8:03 AM

Redding, Calif. -- Discovering the past is like turning over stones. That is how one local filmmaker describes his work.

Now, thanks to a 20-thousand dollar grant from California Humanities and a partnership with the Shasta Historical Society. He is poised to bring an obscure slice of North State history to life.

Documentary filmmaker Mark Oliver says you have to be curious to be into anything about history; turning over a stone that hasn't been turned over.

He tells Action News Now Morning Anchor Julia Yarbough, that it is curiosity that drives him to find and share stories. The Mt. Shasta resident is perhaps best known locally for producing a movie highlighting the thriving African American community in Weed, California.

In his most current project, he plans to reconstruct another little known nugget of Northern California history.

Oliver says there's a lot of evidence that there were African Americans in the hills mining during the mid 1800’s. But, he says there's no mention of African Americans mention in historical records. He is asking the question, ‘why is that information left out?’

With his new project, entitled Voices of the Golden Ghosts", Oliver hopes to answer those and many other questions. Action News Now’s Julia Yarbough asked Oliver why he chose to tell this story and why now?

He says he believes it is important to know who came before you. He went on to say that based on historical records, it appears the African American miners faced incidents of discrimination and even kidnapping. He believes they may have faced some of the same situations that people of color today face.

Oliver says he asks questions such as ‘how did a town evolve and what were the consequences of people who lived in a town long before the town was settled?’ He points out that based on historical records, Northern California was not an area comprised only of Euro-Americans, but a rich tapestry of people, including Native Americans, African Americans, French, Germans, Irish and more.

The new project, Voices of the Golden Ghosts will be a challenging project for Oliver. He says that is because unlike previous films in which he could interview living subjects, this film will be based only on historical records and documents.

But he says he envisions creating short vignettes, using real actors, to recreate a slice of the North State past and bring it to live for modern day.

Oliver is encouraging any residents who may have a personal business or family connection to the region or who has additional information about their ancestors who lived and worked in the North State area, to reach out and share their stories.

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