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By Lt. Martin Herrera, AA/Public Information Officer
Wasco State Prison-Reception Center

On Nov. 18, Wasco State Prison-Reception Center (WSP-RC) served a Thanksgiving meal to the students and community of Allensworth. It’s something the prison has done for more than two decades.

About 30 miles north of Bakersfield is a town founded in 1908 by Colonel Allen Allensworth.

Although born into slavery, Allensworth escaped and became a Union soldier; later to become a Baptist minister and educator, and was appointed as a chaplain in the U.S. Army, according to California State Parks. He was the first African American to reach the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. In 1974, California State Parks purchased land within the historical town site of Allensworth, which is now called Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park.

For more than 20 years, staff at WSP-RC have been hosting an annual event to feed the Allensworth school students (kindergarten through eighth grade) and their families during the holiday season.

WSP-RC purchases all the food – turkey, stuffing, yams, potatoes, gravy, rolls, drink and desert – and plates/cups/silverware necessary to accomplish the task at hand. The cook at Allensworth School prepares the meal in the school cafeteria and WSP-RC staff serves the food, while other staff assist the smaller children by carrying their plates and opening their drink cartons. Prison staff say this is one of their favorite community events and they look forward to it every year.

Funds to purchase the food and miscellaneous items is provided by the Warden’s Annual Golf Tournament.

The history of Colonel Allensworth
(Courtesy California State Parks)

In August 1908, Colonel Allen Allensworth and four other settlers established a town founded, financed and governed by African Americans. Their dream of developing an abundant and thriving community stemmed directly from a strong belief in programs that allowed blacks to help themselves create better lives. By 1910, Allensworth’s success was the focus of many national newspaper articles praising the town and its inhabitants.

Born into slavery in 1842 in the Deep South, Allen Allensworth was sold “down river” for trying to learn to read and write. He attempted escape and finally succeeded. He became a well-known jockey in Kentucky and rode frequently in big races at Louisville. He entered the Navy during the Civil War. After the war, Allen and his brother operated two successful restaurants in St. Louis. Allen continued his formal education, sold the restaurants, and became a minister in 1871.

Soon after, he met and married Josephine Leavell, a young schoolteacher and talented pianist and organist. In 1886, Allensworth reentered the U.S. Army. He served with distinction in the Spanish-American War and was appointed chaplain of the 24th Army Infantry of the United States Colored Troops by the President of the United States.

Lieutenant Colonel Allensworth retired from the military in 1906 as not only the highest-ranking African American officer, but also the highest-ranking chaplain in the army of the time.

He was killed in an accident in 1914.