Alameda’s Rasheed Shabazz (aka the Alamedan formerly known as Reginald James) is one person that can reliably be counted on to uncover and write about the uncomfortable parts of Alameda’s history particularly on race and housing issues. On his tumblr page from two years ago there was an entry about Amos Mecartney one of the old families of Alameda.
I’m just going to excerpt the whole passage, but if you want to see the actual handwritten census document, click through:
Amos Mecartney was a prominent California real estate investor in the mid-19th century. Born in Pennsylvania in 1828, he first came west in 1849. After become wealthy from mining and his investments in San Francisco, he moved to Alameda’s Bay Farm Island in 1873. His grand mansion and role in building a school for children in Bay Farm Island is commemorated today with a street on Bay Farm Island: Mecartney Road. His role as an early Anglo settler looms large in the geographical imagination of Alameda.
However, Mecartney was a “Mulatto”, according to the 1880 manuscript census. On a subsequent census in 1900, he’s listed as white. The 1880 census enumerator may have made a mistake. He does list Mecartney’s wife and children as white, and their neighbors as Chinese, however, showing that distinctions were made.
It is also possible that Mecartney was “passing.” Passing occurs when someone uses their lighter hue to pass for white. In Mecartney’s case, his economic gains and his interracial marriage–illegal in California since statehood–would have been probable cause to cross the color line.
Mecartney is not included in other studies of Black San Francisco, suggesting he either was not black or successfully assimilated into the white world. It will be interesting to see what his contemporaries said of him. And I wonder why no other Alameda historians have mentioned this yet?