City official places wreath honoring Biddy Mason

Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — As Black History Month came to a close, city officials and community members gathered to remember Los Angeles pioneer Biddy Mason, a slave who went to court to win her freedom and then became one of the city’s most prominent citizens.

L.A. City Councilman Kevin de León joined two of Bridget “Biddy” Mason’s descendants Feb. 25 for a wreath-laying ceremony to honor Mason, who was born into slavery in Mississippi and ended her life as a prominent landowner and philanthropist in Los Angeles.

“In the spirit of recognizing a local heroine whose indelible contributions shaped and propelled not only Los Angeles but our state and our nation, we will forever cherish Biddy Mason as one of the greatest angels our city has ever had,” de León said during a ceremony at Biddy Mason Park in the 300 block of Spring Street. “We are here to remember her bravery, her hard work, civic-mindedness — and her unparalleled generosity to her fellow Angelenos. Without question, she is a pillar in the history of our great city.”

Mason was born in 1818 and died in 1891.

De León and Mason’s great-great-great-great-granddaughters Cheryl and Robynn Cox laid a wreath at the park near a plaque honoring Mason.

Mason was freed after challenging her enslavement in court in California, which was a free state when she was brought to in the early 1850s. She moved from San Bernardino to Los Angeles, where she became known as the “Grandmother of Los Angeles” for her charity work, de León’s office said.

Mason worked as a nurse and midwife while buying real estate in Los Angeles, including the area near Biddy Mason Memorial Park, nearly an acre between present-day Broadway and Spring Street, between Third and Fourth streets in downtown L.A.

“As we honor this remarkable woman with a very humble beginning, I hope that we can all be inspired to be better, kinder, and compassionate Angelenos who find ways to lift up our neighbors,” de León said.

One of Mason’s lasting legacies in Los Angeles is the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, or First AME, which she founded in 1872. She also founded a school and an orphanage, donated to numerous charities and opened her home on North Spring Street as a refuge for the destitute.

She was noted for saying “If you hold your hand closed, nothing good can come in. The open hand is blessed, for it gives abundance even as it receives.”

Mason had three daughters. She died in 1891 and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights.