Charles Owens (?-1882)

A successful business owner and real estate investor, Charles Owens became one of the most prominent African Americans in Los Angeles by the end of the nineteenth century. Born into slavery in Texas, Charles’s father, Robert Owens, purchased his family’s freedom and migrated to Los Angeles, California in 1850.

Taking advantage of the opportunity to purchase land in Los Angeles, Robert Owens bought land along San Pedro avenue, which he used to establish a successful livery business with Charles.  After being contracted by the United States government to provide military posts with wood, horses, and beef, the livery business brought Charles and his family great wealth. When Robert Owens died in 1865, Charles inherited the livery.

In 1856, Owens married Ellen Mason, an ex-slave and the daughter of Bridget “Biddy” Mason. The Owens family had played a significant role in pressuring the local government to grant the Mason family a trial to challenge their status as slaves, which ultimately fostered the family’s freedom. Owens’ and Mason’s two sons, Henry and Robert, also rose to prominence in Los Angeles. Robert was even declared the most influential African American west of Chicago by the Colored American in 1905.

Following his father’s lead, Charles Owens invested heavily in real estate throughout what would become downtown Los Angeles. When Owens took over the livery after his father’s death in 1865, he purchased more land along Main Street and extended his business. In addition, Owens encouraged the establishment of significant African American institutions by supporting the construction of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles in 1872.

Through his success as a prominent business man, Owens became one of the wealthiest and most recognized African Americans in the history of black Los Angeles.  Charles Owens died on September 12, 1882.

Source:

Beasley, Delilah, The Negro Trail-Blazers of California. Los Angeles: Times Mirror Print and Binding House, 1919; Taylor, Quintard. In Search of the Racial Frontier: African Americans in the American West, 1528-1990. New York: W.W. Norton, 1998; Flamming Douglas. Bound For Freedom: Black Los Angeles in Jim Crow America. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2005; “Biddy Mason.” In African American Women: A Biographical Dictionary, edited by Dorothy C. Salem. New York: Garland Publishing, 1993.