Growing up in Santa Cruz the "Louden" Nelson Center has always been a place where I have gone. The first summer camp that I attended at the age of six, was at the "Louden" Nelson Center. From Juneteenth events, plays, and friend's birthday parties are just a few of the memories that are anchored to this building.
I remember at about the age of ten my mom telling me the history of the center. That it was named after a freed slave who upon his death bed donated his land to the Santa Cruz City School District, and in return, the "Louden" Nelson Center was built.
What most people do not know is that his name was not "Louden" Nelson, but London Nelson. When naming the center as well as his gravestone they misnamed him "Louden" and put his actual name "London" in parenthesis on his memorial plaque.
London Nelson was a remarkable man. He came to Santa Cruz in 1850 with his mater's son and another slave. London worked along the American River for four years panning for gold, and at the end of the four years, he had earned his freedom. He rented land to farm on and after several years, he had enough money to purchase land next to the San Lorenzo River, Front St and River St.
In an oral will he left his estate to the Santa Cruz City School District "for the use and benefit of said School District forever, for the purpose of promoting the interest of education..." His donation funded the reopening of the school, which had been allowed to close due to a lack of financial support.
London's first name was changed to "Louden" in documents after 1930. Any document that predates this year shows his name being nothing but London.
Unfortunately, this information is not new to our local media, in fact, I have read several local news articles highlighting the misnaming.
What better time than now not only to rename but reclaim history! As a black woman, and Santa Cruz local, I think it is beyond imperative that we have a history that is accurately named after some of our first black leaders.
Sign the petition here!
Petition Written and Organized by: Brittnii London
Santa Cruz MAH Archives