Delilah Leontium Beasley was born in 1871 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her father, Daniel Beasley, was an engineer and her mother, Margaret Harris, raised her five children at home. When her parents died when she was a teenager, Beasley went to work, first as a masseuse then in 1883 as a reporter for the Black newspaper the Cleveland Gazette. She settled in Oakland in 1910, a city with a small but thriving African American community. Beasley continued to write for Black newspapers, this time for the Oakland Sunshine.
After nearly a decade of research she published a monograph entitled The Negro Trail-Blazers of California. She conducted interviews, dug up correspondence and diaries, and culled through laws and court cases to pull together the first real history of African Americans in California. Her book is one of the main sources of information on the lives of many of California’s earliest African American settlers, and is especially vital as it was written for African Americans, by an African American. Beasley also insisted on highlighting the successes of many Black women, a group perpetually ignored from most histories.
Negro Trail-Blazers also contains revelatory details on some of Napa’s early Black pioneers. Beasley was the first historian to point out that there were eight Black men who participated in the Bear Flag Revolt in 1846: John Grider, Jacob Dodson, James Duff, Charles Gains, Billy Gaston, Joe McAfee, and a bodyguard named Ben. Grider, who had arrived with his master, Major George H. Wyatt, in 1845, was charged with obtaining paint for the rebel flag, and served as flag bearer in the revolt.
She went on to become a prominent activist, particularly in women’s groups and pushing for suffrage and housing rights in Alameda County. Her dedication to racial justice inspired the passing of California’s anti-lynching bill in 1933. She passed away in 1934 and is buried at Saint Mary Cemetery in Oakland.