Finding Jefferson

A virtual genealogical exploration of the life and legacy of Jefferson Lewis Edmonds, Los Angeles newspaper editor, educator, activist and former slave.


Digitial Diaspora Family Reunion Personal Essay

I recently wrote an article for the website  about my experience at the the Harlem Stage  gala event back in February: 


"In a culture so obsessed with the preservation of “now” and the constant documentation of our daily lives via Facebook and Twiter, it was refreshing to participate in an event like the Digital Diaspora Family Reunion Road Show.  Under the workmanship of critically acclaimed filmmaker, Thomas Allen Harris, The DDFR Road Show may seem a bit counter intuitive to today’s cultural priorities.  But, in actuality DDFR is quietly and with magnanimous force stirring the embers of a forgotten African Diasporaic


Through photography and oral histories, the DDFR  Road Show highlights some of the most cherished, insightful and uplifting personal tales of the Black Diaspora. Guest are invited to share family histories that span the American coasts, the Caribbean and various counties in Africa, each account powerful and unique in its own right.  If creating a forum to share the beautiful collective past of our ancestors wasn’t enough, Harris and his talented team have also implemented  an educational component to the DDFR Road Show. Throughout each DDFR event Harris offers tips on how audience members can preserve their own family photos and historical documents.


I had the opportunity to attend last year’s DDFR Road Show at the Brooklyn Central Library.  After hearing so many amazing histories, I was determined to get involved. I’ve been tracing my own family history for a few years and  I figured working with Harris and his team would be a wonderful opportunity to not only showcase my findings but to share my story with like-minded genealogy buffs like myself. I was thrilled when I got a call from producer Ann Bennett to participate in the 2011 DDFR Road Show at Harlem Stage. 


The week long event was filled with several days of interviews followed by a spectacular Grand Finale Showcase. I didn’t expect to have such a cathartic response to sharing the family stories behind each photo.  I felt transformed as I began piecing together my fragmented past. It was as if I was a spokesperson for the many great people that make up my lineage.


After the show, I was greeted with an overwhelming amount of support and encouragement from audience members, urging me to keep writing and researching, ensuring me that this path will lead to hundreds of open doors.


If I could sum up my experience in one word it would be – healing. I do believe we, as a people, have made major strides in accomplishing the outward battle of being noticed and respected in this country. Yet, the internal cultural wounds from the Black American experience, are still very much in effect. The DDFR Road Show and related projects are creating opportunities to remedy those wounds. The work of Harris and his team are  helping to unearth our dark and often overlooked history, giving room for release and offering healing and a collective acceptance of our colorful past.”


Arianne C. Edmonds


The article is posted here:


Second Big Discovery

Los Angeles Times Newspaper: February 12th 1909: Negro Section 

All this time, I’d been looking through countless websites, searching for a name, a plantation owner, a slave record something! And there, right before me, a detailed tenderly reflective account of  J.L’s southern enslaved experience in the words of J.L himself!   Reading it, shook me to my core. It was one of the most humbling experiences of  my life thus far. It helped to shed a bit of perspective in my life. J.L’s life’s work, his determination to succeed was not only for himself but for our whole family. He had a vision for each and everyone of us in the LA community. This line of thinking lead me to start questioning if the decisions in my life have been focused around make a lasting imprint in my community. 

See.. LA Times Article Feb 12th 1909


Passing of the Torch

The Liberator paper ran from 1900-1914 and closed its doors the year of Jefferson death.  The paper went unmentioned, lost from the public’s consciousness for decades. Until the early 1980’s when my grandfather, Walter Chase Edmonds II, unearthed  6 volumes of leather bound books with original copies of the Liberator newspaper. He then started a historical crusade to bring to light the life and legacy of J.L Edmonds and his paper.  My grandfather met with several historians and researchers about J.L’s historical significance and with much effort, my grandfather made major strides with his project. Today, you can find J.L and his  paper mentioned in various scholarly articles, books and even a museum exhibition. Unfortunately,  much like J.L,  my grandfather’s decade long crusade ended with his passing. 


That’s where I come in. Almost 15 years later,  in the middle of what felt like my  very own  quarter life crisis. I found myself  back home, with a lot of time on my hands.  Los Angeles was the last place I foresaw my life heading . Especially after working to establish my life and budding TV career in New York. But as fate would have it, my life would take a new course, rearranging what seemly felt stable and known  to a spiraling journey of self discovery, and a blazing desire to uncover the mysteries of my lineage. 


After many long discussion with my dad, I soon realized the baton had been passed on to me. I too, was to make my mark on the multigenerational  research project. I  took to Google and started a mini family search and now 2 years later, I’m rummaging though repositories and digital archives hoping, to get a little closer to the family I  knew so little about.  


First Big Discovery

The first very helpful resource that sparked my research journey was the book, Seeking El Dorado: African Americans in California.  In this fantastically rich body of scholarly research was an essay written by Lonnie Bunch III called, “The Greatest State for the Negro”: Jefferson L. Edmonds, Black Propagandist of the California Dream.  The 19 page essay details the importance of my great great grandfather contribution to the Los Angeles community. 

After seeing this book referenced in an essay online, I ran to the library to do some investigating of my own. Now you can imagine how my jaw dropped as I read page after page of the accomplishments of J.L. Edmonds. I had no idea that research had been published about my family. As I  skimming though the bibliography of the essay, I found  interviews referenced by my grandfather, Walter Chase Edmonds II,  years before I was born. I was beyond shocked!

My excitement soon turned to curiosity and concern as to why this book was never mentioned to my cousins and I. Why was this information buried away in the public library and not lining the bookshelves of my relatives homes?  

That fall day, in the Julian Dixon Culver City Library with my face bathed in tears and disbelief, I quietly promised Jefferson, my dear ancestor, that I would dedicate my life to honoring the legacy of his work. I promised him and myself that I would do my part to making sure his name would be uttered around the globe, that his contributions to the Los Angeles community be acknowledged and that his vision for our family be fulfilled. 

Big promise…huh? Yeah well I made it, and there is no turning back now.

Permalink Edmonds Family Members. Los Angeles. 1924
Permalink Walter Chase Edmonds II & his mother Virginia Edmonds