Most Santa Cruzan’s know the Louden Nelson Community Center. Do you know the story of Louden (London) Nelson?
London Nelson was a black man born in 1800 on a North Carolina plantation as a slave. His master, Matthew Nelson brought him to California in 1849 to help in the search for gold. London worked a gold claim along the American River for four years and was then given his freedom. He came to Santa Cruz in 1856 and worked as a cobbler and grew and sold vegetables. London was able to buy land near River and Front Streets, and though illiterate himself, enjoyed watching the school children come and go from the school on Mission Hill.
He fell ill with consumption and before his death friends helped him make a will that gave all his land “unto Santa Cruz school District forever for the purpose of promoting education.” The school had just closed due to lack of funds, and his donation allowed it to reopen on mission hill as the first permanent schoolhouse in Santa Cruz.
He was buried in Evergreen Cemetery. While his tombstone, and the community center at Laurel and Cedar, refer to him is Loudon Nelson, his first name was likely London and not Louden, as all records prior to 1930 refer to him as London Nelson.
- London Nelson. Santa Cruz Local Wiki. https://localwiki.org/santacruz/London_Nelson
- A Brief Biography of London Nelson. Research Forum, Museum of Art and History Website. http://researchforum.santacruzmah.org/viewtopic.php?p=423