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Did You Know? California is Named after a Black Queen

Did You Know? California is Named after a Black Queen


Did you know that of the 44 people who founded Los Angeles, 26 of them were of African descent? Not only that, but some of the major cities like San Francisco, San Jose, and San Diego were also founded by people of African descent? Or that some of the most affluent zip codes in the state like Orange County, Beverly Hills and Malibu were actually owned by folks of… You guessed it, African descent. Oh! Perhaps the most interesting bit of California is that it was named after the mythical queen, Calafia—a warrior queen who ruled a kingdom of Black women who lived on the mythical island of California.

Calafia was created by Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo, a Spanish writer who introduced her in his popular novel, Las sergas de Esplandián (The Adventures of Esplandián), written around 1500. The novel depicts this warrior queen as a pagan who was convinced to build an army of female warriors and sail away from California (the island, not the state) with a massive flock of 500 well-trained griffins so she could take part in a battle against Christians who were defending Constantinople. During the battle, the griffins harmed both enemy and the friendly forces, so they had to be withdrawn from the fight.

During the battle, Calafia and her ally, Radiaro  fought against the Christian leaders—a king and his son, the knight, Esplandián. The Christians defeated Calafia and took her prisoner where she would later convert to Christianity and marry a cousin to Esplandián. She later returns with her army to the island of California to continue her adventures.

calafiamuralThe painting of Calafia could be found on the California Senate building in Sacramento. The mural was painted in 1926 by Maynard Dixon and Frank von Slun in the Hall of the Dons at the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco, and in all places, a large painting of her resides on the wall of the Golden Dreams building at the Disney California Adventure in Orange County.


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