In the beginning there was Ernest L. Finley. He bought the old Sonoma Democrat in 1897, merged it with his own newspaper, the Evening Press, becoming the owner, editor and publisher of the new Press Democrat.

That's the version of the paper's beginnings as told on the PD's "about" page, on Wikipedia, by the Northern California Media Museum and in various columns and feature items published in the paper over the last 75-odd years.

Trouble is, that's not actually true. The new paper was a partnership, and Finley wasn't even the key player - he was one of two business managers. The founding editor and the person greatly responsible for the Press Democrat's success was Grant O. Richards, although it's rare to find mentions of him after the 1930s. And even before he was erased from the picture, items about the paper's earliest days just mentioned Richards "left the firm" or "sold his interest" to Finley. Neither of those claims were true either, as he killed himself while still editor (although I guess that would qualify as leaving the firm).

The PD - and the city of Santa Rosa itself - has polished Finley's reputation to a gleam ever since his death in 1942, inflating his role in positive events such as founding the paper. But it's particularly unfair to build up Finley at the expense of Richards because it steals away the place he deserved in the history books. Not to mention that townsfolk of his day would have been gobsmacked to learn such a man would become so completely forgotten; hell, everybody in 1890s Santa Rosa probably wished they were Grant O. Richards.

Should you be very lucky, you might meet someone who has that one in a million billion quality which makes everyone (s)he meets fall at their feet. Call it ultra charisma, magnetic charm or even stardust, you are absolutely absolutely devoted to that person from the first meeting. Grant Oswald Richards had that magical ability; people not only really, really liked him, but they couldn't help themselves from jabbering about how much they loved the guy - scroll down through some of the excerpts in the sources below. Such people can become very powerful (and dangerous) when drawn to politics or religion; we should probably be thankful Richards wanted only to be a very good newspaper editor in small towns.



The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

Santa Rosa was wild with joy. Every store and business downtown closed immediately as people flooded into the streets, some shouting, some crying, some laughing; to an outsider it would have looked like everyone in town had suddenly gone barking mad. Nothing like that had ever occurred before and probably will never happen again. So once they invent a time machine, rush down to the atavachron station and buy a ticket for Tuesday, Aug. 14, 1945 at 3:10 in the afternoon. It was V-J Day.

"Almost before the radio and newspaper flashes had been recorded, automobile horns added their din to the sirens' wail and hundreds of cars raced around the courthouse and up and down business streets - serpentine [party streamers] appeared from nowhere and wastebaskets were emptied from second and third-story windows," reported the Press Democrat. "Exuberant youngsters raided the paper balers at the rear of The Press Democrat office, hurled the contents into the street and scattered paper ribbons from rooftops...Streets were littered with paper that backed up into the gutters and overflowed onto the courthouse lawn." There was so much paper in the streets that it looked like the town was hit by a freak snowstorm.

"Fire trucks, flag-bedecked, raced through downtown streets, followed by countless cars, motorcycles, bicycles and shouting pedestrians," the PD noted. Anyone in a vehicle with a horn leaned on it. "Once in a while you see a perfectly sane-appearing person driving by, not honking the horn on his car, and he looks sort of silly," someone told the paper. Probably every kid with a stash of firecrackers - banned by the government since 1943 - gathered on the courthouse steps and earnestly went to work trying to maim themselves.

"Weeping women, many of them wives or mothers of servicemen in the Pacific, stood in doorways and offered their thanks to God...Tears streamed down their cheeks as they mingled with the milling throngs - grief-stricken by their own losses and thankful, along with the rest, that the lives of other sons have been spared." The toll had been terrible; 82 Santa Rosa had been killed in the war with another 19 missing. Another 200 from the county were also dead.

The priest from St. Rose and several ministers tried to organize a thanksgiving ceremony in front of the courthouse but the crowd wasn't in the mood: "the din of auto horns, sirens, backfires and firecrackers exploding in the streets drowned out the voices of the clergymen," the PD noted. Giving up, Father Raters returned to his car and tried to leave, only to find himself trapped in the traffic jam. "The St. Rose pastor made the best of things, honking the horn of his car with the rest ot the hundreds that jammed Fourth street," according to the PD.

The Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce had published a set of rules about what was supposed to happen once the announcement came (see "THE DAY BEFORE THE GREATEST DAY"), including a decree that the bars, along with all other businesses, were supposed to immediately close. One entrepreneurial barkeep apparently "forgot" about that and kept his doors open. A reporter from the PD found "the lone exception was swamped with servicemen and civilians until Police Chief Melvin Flohr and other officers 'cracked down' at 5:30 o'clock."

After that, out came the bottles purchased during the "peace jitters" of the previous four days. There were "numberless house parties where friends gathered to jointly celebrate the greatest day in the history of the United States and the world."

Another part of the best-laid plans was a parade, but the Chamber and Parade Marshal decided to put it off until the next day, after efforts failed "to form a parade from the aimless mass of motorcars."





The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com. - Jeff Elliott

The wait was unbearable. Few probably slept although it was nice August weather, with cool fog after dark. Had it happened overnight? Tune in KSRO at 6:15 for the first morning newscast. Grab the Press Democrat on the doorstep and study it. Every word of news in it. You have to know everything about the situation. TODAY is the day. Okay, it will happen tomorrow, for sure. No need to set the clock. You'll be awake long before 6:15. It will be THE day.

For five days in August, 1945, Santa Rosa was as wound up as a 6 year-old eating spoonfuls of sugar on Christmas Eve.

Friday, August 10, was the day after the U.S. dropped the second atomic bomb on Japan, destroying much of the city of Nagasaki. Truman warned Japanese civilians to flee industrial cities to save their lives from further atomic destruction. The Soviets declared war on Japan. Japan announced it would broadcast "news of vital importance to everyone" on Sunday night, which everyone presumed would be a surrender, marking the end of WWII.

The Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce laid out the rules: When the fire sirens go off, all bars were to close and to stay closed for the rest of the day. Ditto for retail stores: "...stores will close immediately if official end-of-the-war announcement is received during business hours. In this event - receipt of word while stores are open - they will close not only for the balance of the day, but also for the entire following day provided the following day is a business day. If the word is received in the early morning, before the usual time of opening, they will remain closed all day..." There will be a victory parade, although "...There will be no Sunday parade, however, in event the word is received on that day, or late Saturday..." They apparently spent the entire day in meetings to make sure we knew how to have fun properly.

Santa Rosa was having a bad case of the "peace jitters," as the Press Democrat called it. There was little news on Saturday - Washington was keeping negotiations hush-hush, but it was reported Japan wanted conditional terms of surrender. Not much on Sunday, either. The PD ran a letter to the editor decrying parking meters.

Everyone was waiting for the Sunday night message from Japan. And at the expected time, radio announcers interrupted the regular programming to announce "Japan accepts surrender terms of the Allies." The PD reported what happened next:





The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

- Jeff Elliott

"I firmly believe, from what I have seen, that this is the chosen spot of all this earth," wrote Luther Burbank in his first letter from Santa Rosa in 1875. But then he added a qualifier: "...as far as Nature is concerned."


Something about Santa Rosa apparently didn't sit well with old Luther, but we'll never know what. The town was welcoming to "immigrants" such as himself, yet it was still rough around the edges - a Chinese man had just been shot in the back and no one seemed very interested in finding out who did it. It was also a saloon town, where men argued endlessly about race horses and politics, topics which didn't hold any interest for Burbank. Or maybe he didn't know what to make of a "humor" item which appeared in the local newspaper around the time he arrived. It went like this: An ex-slave encountered a friend of his former "Massa" and said all the changes since the Civil War had left him sad. While he managed to save enough before the war to buy his freedom, now he wished he kept the money instead. The punchline: As a slave he was worth $1,000 - now he wasn't worth a damn. 


The weekly Sonoma Democrat regularly offered racist items like that - so many that it would be easy to mistake it for a newspaper published in the Deep South. That vignette, in fact, was reprinted from a paper in Mississippi.


This article is a coda to the series "THE HIDDEN LIVES OF BLACK SANTA ROSA," which explored how the Democrat in the late 19th century ignored African-American townspeople, even when they were men and women of distinction. It disappeared them by rarely offering obituaries and not mentioning weddings, deaths, births, arrivals and departures. But that doesn't mean the paper ignored African-Americans; it published something about them almost every week - albeit only things which ground them down by reinforcing the ugliest racist stereotypes.


Blacks in the late 19th century faced myriad problems nationwide, although today we focus mainly on the dramatic acts of violence and overt acts of discrimination - lynchings, the Klan, Jim Crow laws and the like. But reading the old Democrat it's shocking to discover how normalized racism was in Santa Rosa. Those toxic little stinkbombs in the paper reminded African-Americans they were inferior and fair game to be pushed around, and they sent a clear message to whites that blacks deserved lowly status. And probably worst of all, it taught white children all this was just the way of the world. Coming soon: White Supremacy, The Next Generation.


Let Gentle Reader be forewarned that this is not the sort of historical amusement usually found here, and what follows will stray into uncomfortable territory - reading (or writing) about hateful speech is No. Fun. At. All. But we can't discuss Santa Rosa's history without being honest about how ugly some of it really was. We can debate how much this material shaped the town, but we can't deny it existed. And we can't pretend this problem stopped when the Sonoma Democrat folded in 1897; the Press Democrat continued dishing out offensive racial jokes and short fiction well into the 1930s, only not as vigorously.




The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com. 


- Jeff Elliott


It came to this: He was afraid to step outside at night because they might be waiting for him in the dark.

His attackers during 1886 were a troupe of Santa Rosa boys who thought it was great fun to pelt Henry's little house with stones and other objects, with Henry sometimes being struck himself. The boys made a project of it, curating rotten chicken eggs and spoiled fruit  along with heavy-but-throwable rocks, hauling this ammunition stockpile down to the poorest part of town on First Street. His door was their target, but sometimes the missiles went through windows.

The harassment had gone on for a while - weeks, maybe months - while his pleas for help were ignored by the authorities. "The Marshal told him that the boys would not do it if they did not think it annoyed him, and they do it to hear the old gentleman complain", reported the Democrat newspaper in January. Another item about the ongoing attacks appeared nine months later, with the comment it was too bad that it was happening because Henry and his wife were good Christians.

The boys likely picked on the Davisons because they were African-Americans. Santa Rosa in the 19th century never had much tolerance for its non-white residents, and 1886 was particularly bad - on a downtown street that summer, a youth repeatedly beat a Chinese man in the head with an iron bar; no arrests were made and the newspaper waved it off with the same "boys will be boys" attitude.

Henry was also an easy target because he was elderly (67) and had the humblest job in town, shining shoes at Gus Koch’s barber shop on the corner of Mendocino and Fourth Street. His nickname was even "Shiner" - and let's not overlook that was also racist slang for anyone with a black complexion.

Another reason they may have gone after him was because he had to be a liar or a fabulist. There were stories told about him which couldn't possibly be true - such a frail, old shoeshine man in a farmtown like Santa Rosa couldn't have known famous people, taken part in historic events or done any other remarkable things. It all had to be made up. Right?



The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

- Jeff Elliott



Quiz: Name the successful woman in 1870s Santa Rosa who was a real estate investor. Answer: It's a trick question (sorry!) because we don't know her real name.

On her tombstone at Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery she is Elizabeth Potter. Legally she was C. E. Hudson; that was the only name on her will and how she bought and sold land - except for once when she identified herself as Charlotte E. Hudson. The 1860 census named her as Elizabeth Hudson, and her death notice in the local newspaper stated she was known as Lizzie Hudson. Whatever her name, Elizabeth/Charlotte Potter/Hudson was a remarkable woman. The reason you've never heard of her before is certainly because she was African-American and Santa Rosa's 19th century Democrat paper had a single-minded determination to erase the presence of its black citizens, only mentioning them when there was a shot at grinding them down with ridicule.

(This is the second installment in the series, "THE HIDDEN LIVES OF BLACK SANTA ROSA." It will be helpful to read the introduction for background.)

Most of what we know about her comes from her tombstone and mentions in her brother's obituary (there was no obituary for her - she received only that two-line "Lizzie" death notice, which appeared for a single day). From real estate transactions we can guess her net worth was about $7,000 before she died in 1876; at that time in Sonoma County, $10k was the threshold for being considered wealthy.

Her birth name was almost certainly Elizabeth Potter and she was born a slave in Maryland, 1826. Bondage ended when she escaped a slaveholder in Virginia and somehow made her way to Santa Rosa, California. Speculate if you want that "Hudson" was related to a deceased husband, but note she never once used "Mrs." with any form of her name, as was the custom at the time for widows.

We first meet her locally as Elizabeth Hudson in the 1860 census, where she is part of the household of civil rights activist John Richards, counted as a servant. (A servant was defined as a paid domestic worker.) She was listed as 37 years old and from Maryland. But a few days later, she was listed a second time as a servant for John H. Holman - but this time from Virginia. A double-count mistake like that is unusual, but not all that rare; the respondent for the household was almost certainly one of the Holmans and not Elizabeth herself.

After the Civil War she managed to reach her older brother who had remained in captivity until emancipation, having been sold four or five times in his fifty-odd years. At her urging, Edmund joined his sister here in 1872 and two years later, they became co-owners of 50+ acres north of town next to the county poor farm. Presumably all or most of the $1,200 price was contributed by Elizabeth (this deal was the only time she used "Charlotte").

There Edmund and his wife, Martha, made a small farm. Elizabeth may have lived with them as well; it was where she died in 1876.

Elizabeth knew she was dying and sold one of her investment properties for the first time, getting $1,700 for a downtown parcel. She also tried to lure more of her family to Santa Rosa; in a poignant bequest in her will, she offered 13 of an even more valuable lot to "any cousin of mine who may come out from the East and attend me in my last sickness and may be here before my burial." Nobody came. When she passed away just before Thanksgiving, her 59 year-old brother Edmund - who could read but not write - inherited everything.




The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

- Jeff Elliott


With all the interest in correcting the historical record by pulling down monuments to racists and traitors, let's talk about honoring someone, too: He was Sonoma County's first civil rights activist and a lonely patriot in Santa Rosa's swamp of Confederate sympathizers. His name was John Richards and he had a radical notion: African-American children were entitled to receive a basic education.

Nothing apparently was more important to Richards than the "colored school" but under 1860 California law, “Negroes, Mongolians and Indians shall not be allowed into public schools" so parents like John and Philena Richards had to pay for a private school or send their children away to board with someone where a school was available. Petaluma was among six communities in Northern California that bucked the law and created a public school for black children in 1864, and nothing stopped Santa Rosa from doing likewise, if it had the will.1

Since Richards was a man of means, he hired teachers to educate the town's black children, including his two adopted kids, Ella and Frank - even though he was also paying $70 a year in county taxes to underwrite public schools for whites.2

(This is the first profile in the series, THE HIDDEN LIVES OF BLACK SANTA ROSA." It will be helpful to read the introduction for background.)

By trade Richards was a barber, which was one of the better occupations open to African-Americans in 19th century white America. Santa Rosa's weekly newspaper, the Sonoma Democrat, typically flung racist epithets at blacks as a race, white abolitionists and  Lincoln Republicans, but Richards was never demeaned in editor Thomas Thompson's Democrat, likely because his business was a regular advertiser and he was a wealthy man. But just because the Democrat didn't target Richards does not mean Thompson treated him with respect. In an 1869 screed against the Democratic Party not sufficiently defending a "White Man's Government," a contributor sneered he "would rather marry John Richard’s wife, if a widow, than the widow of a democrat.” Thompson added helpfully, "[This is a negro family in Santa Rosa.]"

Instead of openly insulting Richards himself, Thompson ghosted him by ignoring his remarkable deeds. The only time Richards' school was mentioned in the newspaper was a grudging nod via reprinting a tribute from one of San Francisco's African-American weekly newspapers. It was written by Judge William Churchman, a local abolitionist - but Thompson added a preface that it showed the town wasn't as hateful as it really was: "It may seem a little remarkable to some intensely loyal people, but the fact is nevertheless true, that Santa Rosa which has long enjoyed the reputation with loyalty of being a perfect hot bed of traitors and negro-haters should afford one of the best schools for the education of negro children to be found in the State." The Democrat did not even acknowledge, however, that Richards was sponsoring the school.

And, of course, Thompson didn't reprint another part of the same article that revealed some white Santa Rosans were apparently attending the graduation ceremony looking to pick fault with the children's learning, yet came up short themselves:



The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

- Jeff Elliott

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