Fred Luther Haynes Ed.D. authored a book featuring African American Women from Kern County called, “Trailblazers of Kern County.” Haynes was one of seven children of Mable Collins Haynes Tyson. He authored this book to honor his mother, Mable, and thirty-five women from the Kern County area. Here, I will feature what he wrote about my mother, Katherine Christine Hopkins. I will also feature other accomplished women and their stories which he wrote about in his book.
My mother, Katherine Christine Hopkins (fondly called Christine), was born January 30, 1921. She passed away February 11, 1984. Our family moved to Bakersfield from Altus, Oklahoma in 1944 where she met her husband, my father, Albert. Albert was worked as a detail man for a used car dealer. The rest of our family including me was composed of a daughter Edith, another daughter Mae, and a second son Albert.
Christine was known as an entrepreneurial genius. She worked as a house cleaner for wealthy white women. The women she worked for gave her hand-me-down clothes and furniture as part of her pay. She began to sell the secondhand clothes and furniture to members of her church on O Street until she borrowed $50.00 to open a small shop on what was known as Cottonwood Road.
The secondhand store prospered, and in 1956, the family purchased a Victorian home at 131 N Street, located on a block populated by Bakersfield’s only Black doctor, and Bakersfield’s only Black dentist, and next door to the well-known Coston family. The Hopkins’ house became a popular meeting place for church dignitaries and others, housing Bishops, Missionaries, Preachers and Evangelists who stayed in Bakersfield for their meetings and revivals.
The store grew into a fine antique store and Christine (then known as “Mother Hopkins”) became a popular figure throughout Bakersfield. After Mother Hopkins had a stroke Edith operated the store until Mother Hopkins’ health began to fail and she closed it.
The story of Kern County includes Bakersfield and surrounding areas such as Buttonwillow, Carversville, Arvin, Oildale, cotton, the Dust Bowl, Cain AME Church. Black people were not accepted to enroll in trade schools. To become a beautician or barber, Black people had to go to another town such as Henrietta’s Beauty School in Los Angeles.
The trip from Oklahoma to Bakersfield was filled with stories of the South such as, Boley, Oklahoma, an historically all-Black town, and prayer to get us through to the next mile, and shotguns to shoot wild Jackrabbits for our next dinner. The Wilson Family headed to California because they were told that money grew on trees. They landed in Blyth, California and soon found that the money story was a legend and not true. Picking Cotton was the source of survival. They left Blythe for Bakersfield where Minnie met and married Jeff Wilson in a catalogue-purchased dress.
The book tells of the first Black school dietician, the first Black sheriff, the first Black social worker, and the first Black Teacher. More than anything, I discovered that California was no different than Oklahoma. The schools, neighborhoods and churches were all segregated, just as they were in Oklahoma. Black children learned that Black folks were supposed to be less than they were, and they adopted language and behavior to reflect it. But Black people kept moving on up.
Our churches were and are the rocks of our communities. We learned to read, preach, speak, and perform. There was the Holiness, the Baptist, and the AME churches. All had different procedures, but eventually ended up teaching the same things. In the end we kept rising to reach the Presidency, The Vice Presidency, and at this writing, we are anticipating a Black Justice of the United States, as we keep knocking down barriers. This one book tells the story of one community and mirrors the progress of the country that we love and still question whether it loves us.