Pioneers of Downtown

San Diego Black History: Pioneers of Downtown

About the Project 

The experiences and contributions of San Diego’s Black community, from the city’s founding to today, have shaped modern day San Diego. This project aims to share and celebrate the history and stories of the leaders, advocates, athletes, and professionals who pushed for equity, equality, community development, and left their legacy on San Diego.  

The eight “Pioneers of Downtown” recognized this year are by no means comprehensive of all of San Diego but rather focusses on the persons that best depict the African-American experience in the downtown area from the 1880’s to the mid-20th century.  

The Downtown San Diego Partnership, in collaboration with the San Diego African American Museum of Fine Arts and San Diego History Center, commissioned local artist Raquel Rhone to design a series of portraits honoring the eight “pioneers of Downtown” listed below. The portraits will be featured on pole banners placed along Market Street in Downtown San Diego   during the month of June in commemoration of Juneteenth. The banner program will feature additional “Pioneers of Downtown” in future years.  

The “Downtown San Diego African-American Heritage Study” prepared by Mooney & Associates was an invaluable resource for information on the history of African Americans in Downtown San Diego. You can view the study here. 

About the Artist 

Raquel Rhone is a local Black artist with talent in Portrait Art, Abstract Art, and Graphic Design. Rhone received a Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design from San Diego State University in 2013 and has experience working as a Graphic Designer for a local signage design shop called STATS INC. Raquel’s creations are displayed throughout the Southeast San Diego community. Rhone’s mural artwork at the Heartbeat Music Academy in Southeast San Diego spans over 80 feet. Rhone was also one of the lead artists on the “Let’s Live, Let’s Love” campaign, a project from SDG&E and Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe focused on encouraging unity, respect, love and life through art on utility boxes located on Imperial Avenue in City Council District 4. Rhone currently has her work on display at Oya Art Gallery & Boutique, located on 6 Hensley Street (entrance at the painted piano staircase). For more information on her work and the art gallery, please visit 

From Our Partners

San Diego African American Museum of Fine Arts 

On Friday, June 17, at 5:00 PM the San Diego African American Museum of Fine Art will open its most recent exhibit “The Busses Are Coming”. This interactive, photographic exhibit is a national recognition of the 300 men and women who in 1961 rode busses to the deep south, seeking civil rights. These brave, young people became known as the Freedom Riders. Visitors will be able to hear actual interviews with some of the Freedom Riders depicted in the exhibit, view videos and will be asked to use their mobile devices to access the information available via QR Codes. In addition to the exhibit, there is a variety of performances and programming planned including Poetry, music, inspiring discussions.  

When: June 17 – September 2, 2022 

Where: Quartyard, 1301 Market Street, San Diego, CA 92101 

Cost: This event is free; donations will be accepted.  

For more information visit  


San Diego History Center 

Celebrate San Diego: Black History & Heritage is a new project of the San Diego History Center. More than an exhibition with a limited life span, this initiative is multi-layered and has life in the physical, the digital, as well as the SDHC permanent collection to be shared and studied for generations to come. 

For more information visit  

2022 Pioneers of Downtown San Diego

Dr. Matthews was one of the founders of the Southeast YMCA (now the Jackie Robinson YMCA); the Southeast Community Theatre/ Common Ground Theatre; the Elementary Institute of Science; the Association of African American Educators and the Encanto Planning Group. Dr. Matthews made efforts to move the Martin Luther King Parade to Downtown San Diego. The parade was founded by Dr. David Geiger. Dr. Matthews kept the parade’s legacy going by organizing it on behalf of Alpha Phi Alpha (the oldest Black fraternity in America) after Dr. Geiger’s passing. For more than 25 years, there was no annual parade that didn’t have his hands on planning and implementation. 

The year after Jackie Robinson was signed, Ritchey was signed with the San Diego Padres making him the first Black player in the Pacific Coast League, breaking racial boundaries. Before this opportunity, Ritchey played for San Diego State University. Ritchey hit left and threw right. There is a bust of Johnny Ritchey at Petco Park. 

Rebecca Craft devoted her time towards the improvement of living conditions for other African Americans. She was qualified to be a teacher, but was denied employment due to her race once she moved to San Diego. She founded the Baptist Young Peoples Union, the Negro Women’s Civic League, and pushed for African-American teachers to be employed. She additionally pushed for equality in the San Diego Police Department.

George Ramsey made a career in Downtown San Diego off of managing bars, hotels and cafes catered mainly to African Americans. Ramsey was one of the founders of Hotel Douglas which became a main scene of nightlife for the Black community in Southern California.

A local legend of politics and lifelong advocate for representation, connection, and participation, Barron faced seemingly insurmountable barriers of racism and sexism. Throughout her long life, she remained dedicated to not only finding a seat at the table, but in bringing in more chairs for others. – San Diego History Center 

Dr. Kimbrough was an advocate for desegregation and was one of San Diego’s first Black dentists. Kimbrough cofounded the San Diego Urban League in 1953; helped to established the Southeast San Diego YMCA; served on the board of the San Diego Historical Society; was the first black to be elected president of both the San Diego Dental Society and the California State Board of Dental Examiners; was Section Chief of Dental Medicine at San Diego County Hospital; invited to the White House by President John F. Kennedy to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.  

Despite pressure, San Diego schools didn’t have a black teacher until they hired 27-year-old Blossom Lorraine Van Lowe in 1942 to teach at Memorial Junior High in Logan Heights. Even that didn’t happen easily: The district was forced to open up hiring amid an influx of new students and a shortage of male teachers due to the war. Van Lowe was the model candidate. She was a native Californian with degrees from San Diego City College and Columbia University

Prior to 1931, The San Diego Police Department had only one black officer, John Cloud, on the force at that time. Davis read the ads in the newspaper that were scouting for police officers, and took the qualifying test. He placed twenty-fourth on the eligibility list, but he was repeatedly passed over when appointments were made. When Davis went to see Chief Arthur Hill about it, Hill discouraged him. Rebecca Craft successfully pressured the city’s police chief to hire a Black policeman, this would contribute to Jasper Davis being hired in 1931, leading to an interest in increasing the number of city jobs for Black people, especially on the police force.