Coronado Black History Month, Tent City, 1900-1938
WARNING: The following article contains graphic information that readers may find disturbing. Reader discretion is advised.
The construction of the Hotel Del Coronado is the singular event that gave birth to our beloved city and placed it on the map as a premier holiday destination. The popularity of the Hotel as a holiday destination led to the creation of Tent City, which started with several hundred tents available for rent in 1900 to nearly a 1000 tents prior to its closing in 1938. It was a carnival atmosphere around Tent City, filled with attractions as varied as a horse jumping into a swimming pool, to vaudeville acts, and wading pools.
In 2016, a local realtor purchased a book on Ebay containing all the copies of the Tent City Program from 1903. In 2016, a San Diego Union Tribune article on the discovery of these programs was published and took a dive into the contents of the programs. The writer mentioned a performance by Harry Wilson, a black-face performer (but added no opinion on the racism inherent in the description). What she failed to note in her review of this 1903 program was a small advertisement in the “Attractions” section of the daily program that contained this:
You may wonder, as I did, what kind of attraction would be called such an offensive name? I discovered that the attraction being referenced is a game whereby participants pay for the chance to throw baseballs at African American adults or children, whose faces appear through holes in a curtain . Ferris State University’s amazing Jim Crow Museum has produced a short painful Video describing the horrific history of this game, as well as a written history called The African Dodger. I may note that in some locations, the game did not use human targets, which were instead wooden paddles with the faces of black “pickaninnies” painted on them.
You might think it only happened for a short time, right? Maybe it only occurred in 1903, the time that this program was released. Don’t count on it. The only copies of the Tent City program available to researchers are from 1903, no other years are preserved. Furthermore, here is an excerpt from an article in referring to the same game being played in Santa Cruz, California in 1936:
Here are other references to the game from local papers in California in this period:
I am sure most of you did not want to read about such a painful thing being a part of our town’s history. But this was the lived experience of our Black residents of Coronado. Civil War hero Edmund Marshall was making ice for the Hotel Del just steps away from this horror show. Civil War hero and Buffalo Soldier Amos Hudgins and wife Cynthia were raising their child Algee and later their grandchild Cynthia throughout this period. Also during this period, Buffalo Soldier and US-Philippine War (1902) veteran James Ludlow and wife Tallie were raising their 6 children (5 of whom would serve overseas in WW2) just blocks away. Several other Black families lived on the island at the time, and many African American men and women made the daily commute from San Diego to Coronado for work, certainly some of them in Tent City itself.
Please read the Ferris State University links in this email as they are important for perspective.