Keeping African-Americans' stories alive

  • Santa Rosa minister, historian and African-American community leader Ann Gray Byrd (JOHN BURGESS/ PD)

Every February, Black History Month prompts speeches, seminars, gatherings and concerts. But retired Baptist minister and longtime rights activist Ann Gray Byrd of Santa Rosa has marked the occasion in her own way.

Byrd is the author of "Glimpses: A History of African Americans in Santa Rosa," working in collaboration with former Press Democrat staff writer Sheri Graves.

There is a rich local history that often is overlooked, and a long list of African-Americans have made a local difference, Byrd said. Many of them are profiled in the book, which she self-published in 2011.

"If I had not written this book, all of that would be lost," she said. "I am who I am because of the people in this book."

One local history maker is Jesse Love, a survivor of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, who settled in Santa Rosa after the war and helped start one of the county's oldest black churches, Community Baptist. He died at age 91 last year.

Another example is Platt Williams, who co-founded the Sonoma County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1954, and still lives in Santa Rosa.

Byrd's family also is part of local black history. Her parents, Gilbert and Alice Gray, were Williams' partners in starting the local NAACP, and also were founders of Community Baptist Church.

Byrd has carried on the family tradition, serving as the president of the Sonoma County NAACP for the past four years. She also is a winner of the organization's Legacy Award.

One of nine children, Byrd came to Santa Rosa's South Park neighborhood with her family more than 60 years ago.

"Santa Rosa was very segregated in 1951," she said. "South Park was where black families lived."

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