Mary Ellen Pleasant: The 30 Million Dollar Mother of Civil Rights in California

Mary Ellen Pleasant

Countless Black people have fought tirelessly for our liberation, and because of this, many of them have been lost in the tides of history. At this time, it’s necessary to give a nod to one of those under-the-radar historical figures of the past.

Had she remained in the Deep South, Mary Ellen Pleasant could have possibly received as much–if not more–recognition for her contributions as Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, and Rosa Parks…to name a few. Ms. Pleasant’s story was unique in comparison with many Blacks who were enslaved in the Antebellum South: Born in Augusta, GA in the early 1800s, she was born as the illegitimate daughter of the son of then-Virginia governor and a Haitian voodoo priestess, who was enslaved  as well.

As a child, Pleasant was taken out of slavery by an unknown family. As a young woman, Pleasant married a wealthy Mulatto abolitionist by James Smith sometime in the 1840’s. After her husband’s untimely death, Pleasant inherited his substantial fortune.

Moving to New Orleans shortly after this turn of events, she connected with a woman named Queen Marie Laveau–also known as one of the greatest voodoo priestesses to reside in the “Crescent City”. It was said that Pleasant studied under Laveau to learn the science of voodoo as a means of empowering her people. In spite of her selfless acts of service to her fellow Melanoid people in New Orleans, it was a short matter of time before she would be on the move again — this time to San Francisco.

In April of 1852, Mary Ellen Pleasant arrived in the Bay Area’s largest city. Once she got there, she had to take on two identities, due to California’s Fugitive Slave Act of 1852 –in order to avoid being captured by slave hunters. Under her two identities, she lived a double life — One as “Mrs. Ellen Smith” (her married name), and the other as “Mrs. Pleasants”, who operated as a businesswoman and abolitionist. Under the “Ellen Smith” moniker, she worked as a white boardinghouse steward and cook. With a job in the service sector, she was often in the midst of a sizable number of wealthy white businessmen in ‘Frisco, who she served as she worked. She was well-liked by many of the men, but she used their admiration for her as leverage to have them hire Black people, and give them benefits they were previously denied access to. It was because of her personal brand of power brokering that many people in her circle nicknamed her “The Black City Hall”.

With a secret business partner, Pleasant eventually amassed a fortune worth over $30 million. She used much of that fortune to challenge the white supremacist status quo that’s always plagued this country, with her most notable deed being that she financially backed the storied abolitionist, John Brown.

For more on the story of Mary Ellen Pleasant, follow this link.

B. Clark

14 thoughts on “Mary Ellen Pleasant: The 30 Million Dollar Mother of Civil Rights in California

  1. The Yellow king says:


  2. Lyric says:


  3. Very interesting I never heard of her but it’s no surprise because they always hide our history from us. More articles about our ‘lost’ ancestors would be greatly appreciated. Peace.

  4. nah says:

    She is super tiny – looks like a dwarf. Anyway, I’m not understanding how she amassed $30M as a steward and cook? What were her and this “secret” business partner really doing?

    1. Jelani says:

      She inherited her husbands fortune and made it grow

  5. Ronnie says:

    Picture looks badly photoshopped,,probably made up fictional bs and she pulled $30m out of her ass pocket..don’t buy it.

    1. chel says:

      Ronnie darling she was probably an israelite.
      what blacks can’t be wealthy? You would be surprise. let us see your pic and see how good looking you are. I would bet not

      1. Leyroy malaka says:

        I’m a black albino and was born with a white penis and I suffer discrimination every time I’m in the gents.

  6. R8sing A Nation says:

    Wonderful piece! Please post more! My daughter did a report last year on Biddy Mason it was truly an example of against all odds making a way to greatness, just as this was.

  7. Omar says:

    Great Article!!!!!!!!!!

  8. Leyroy malaka says:

    That’s Morgan freeman in a dress.

  9. lissen_up says:

    The Trolls are so addicted to the Melanoid schlong they just can’t help themselves..
    Good historical sharing..

  10. Asad Malik says:

    The comments on this site are ridiculous. 😑 😑 😑 This is a VERY important article on a Black QUEEN that many of us have never heard of. This is important because YOUR knowledge of who you are is tied to the legacy of those who have come before you. If a group of people wants to destroy your identity, they start by destroying your history. Learning about Mary Ellen Pleasant doesn’t just teach you about her – it teaches you about YOU! 💥

    I want to thank the author of this post and will be adding her to our 50 Most Important Pan-Africans here …I bet most of you have never heard of most of these people, even though they dedicated their lives to YOU ALL! 💥

  11. Lpleasant says:

    Wow that’s my ancestor!!!!!!!!! She also used to help sneak the slaves over state lines because she was so light the dumb devils thought she was missy Ann Lmao great find melanoid nation

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