Mary Ellen Pleasant, California’s Mother of Civil Rights, and her partner meet again on the corner of Bush and Octavia, where it all began

 

Born a slave, Mary Ellen Pleasant was in her mid-30s when she sailed to California in 1852, initially passing as white. After amassing her fortune and working with John Brown to expand the Underground Railroad to California, she changed her race legally to Black.
Born a slave, Mary Ellen Pleasant was in her mid-30s when she sailed to California in 1852, initially passing as white. After amassing her fortune and working with John Brown to expand the Underground Railroad to California, she changed her race legally to Black.

It has been over 100 years since the story of Mary Ellen Pleasant, the Mother of Civil Rights in the state of California and the first African American woman millionaire, has been told on the location where she made most of her wealth.

Mary Ellen Pleasant became a famous name in the city of San Francisco. Described as “a Rosa Parks, a Martin Luther King and a Malcolm X all rolled into one,” she reportedly amassed some $30 million in real estate and investments with her partner Thomas Bell in San Francisco during the Gold Rush era.

An abolitionist active in the Underground Railroad, Mary Ellen Pleasant’s fight with the Omnibus Railway Co. in San Francisco was victorious, making her the first to win equal rights for African Americans to ride public transportation. Her victory came almost 100 years before Rosa Parks.

Described as “a Rosa Parks, a Martin Luther King and a Malcolm X all rolled into one,” she reportedly amassed some $30 million in real estate and investments with her partner Thomas Bell in San Francisco during the Gold Rush era.

Ms. Pleasant, the first African American woman millionaire, made her millions before Madame C.J. Walker was 5 years old. But how did she amass such remarkable wealth and power and what was her relationship with Thomas and Theresa Bell?

For 25 years during the 19th century, Mary Ellen Pleasant, described as a shrewd Black woman, was thought to have tyrannized the somber Bell mansion on Octavia and Bush Street. She was called a latter-day female Robin Hood, Superwoman of the Gold Rush and a voodoo queen. She’s been said to possess the boldness of Evita Peron and the lawlessness of Lucretia Borgia.

'House on the Hill Mary Ellen Pleasant Story' posterOn Aug. 16 at 6 p.m., Sharon L. Graine Productions and Matthew Ely of Therapeia Massage present a reading of Sharon L. Graine’s play “House On The Hill: Mary Ellen Pleasant’s Story.” Therapeia currently resides in a 10,000 square foot space, which is located on the exact plot of land where Mary Ellen Pleasant’s mansion stood. Many stories have been told about that land and its past owner.

This is a one evening only performance taking place at 1801 Bush St., San Fransisco, on Aug. 16 at 6 p.m.

Sharon L. Graine, winner of the “Women of Theatre” award, is proud to bring her four character play about the first African American female millionaire and Mother of Civil Rights in the state of California for the first time to San Francisco. “House on the Hill: Mary Ellen Pleasant’s Story” features Sharon L. Graine as Mary Ellen Pleasant, Kevin Dulude as Thomas Bell, Geraldine Fuentes as Theresa Bell, Chester A. Graine III as William and singer Slyvia Boyd.

Mary Ellen’s enemies accused her of being a voodoo priestess, a madame and a murderer. But what is the truth? Ms. Graine’s script explores all aspects of Mary Ellen’s life and allows the audience to decide.

This is a one evening only performance taking place at 1801 Bush St., San Francisco, on Aug. 16 at 6 p.m. The ticket price is $25 and seating IS limited, so an early arrival is suggested. Purchase your tickets at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/812812. For more information, contact Sharon Graine, at 323-896-3613 or sharonlgraine@aol.com, or Therapeia Massage, at 415-885-4450 or info@therapeiamassage.com.

The Bell mansion, where the great Mary Ellen Pleasant held sway, in a photo taken in January 1925
The Bell mansion, where the great Mary Ellen Pleasant held sway, in a photo taken in January 1925