O'Reilly ignorant of California's history but still talks like an authorityJune 9, 2004 4:35 PM EDT ››› GABE WILDAU
On the June 2 broadcast of The Radio Factor, host Bill O'Reilly claimed that "there was not slavery in California ... at all" -- despite credible sources documenting that eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Spanish colonial missions in California used Native Americans as "unpaid laborers who were not free to leave"; that the California legislature enacted laws legalizing Indian slavery in 1850; and that African slaves worked in the gold fields of California during the gold rush.
O'Reilly's remarks came during a discussion of the American Civil Liberties Union's recent threat to sue Los Angeles County if the county did not remove a cross from its official seal. The ACLU argued that a cross on the seal violates the constitutional separation of church and state. O'Reilly criticized Los Angeles County First District Supervisor Gloria Molina -- who voted to remove the cross -- for arguing that the cross isn't worth defending because its presence on the seal commemorates the Spanish missions, which she said represent a shameful chapter in California's history.
From the June 2 edition of The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly:
O'REILLY: This is Gloria Molina, who is one of the supervisors for the county of LA, Lena says -- Molina says quote [apparently reading from a June 2 Los Angeles Times article], "The missions were not a great part of our history." [O'Reilly omitted the first part of Molina's quotation: "there are many people who argue that..."] Totally fallacious. Absolutely wrong. The missions in California were the first towns and settlements in that state. So Molina doesn't know anything. And then she goes on to say, "The reality is they were built by slaves." So Molina doesn't like the missions, because they were built by -- in her opinion -- slaves.
There was not slavery in California, by the way, at all.
Later in the same show, a caller tried to correct O'Reilly's statement, but O'Reilly stood firm. O'Reilly argued that even if the missions did abuse Native Americans, such abuse was insignificant for two reasons: "There was no policy of slavery in California" and "Everybody got abused." He also praised the missions as "the first civilized establishments in the state."
The truth is that both Native American and African slavery did exist in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century California. Some examples:
* Franciscan missions abused Native Americans to the point that "they essentially became slaves," according to "American Passages: A Literary Survey," an education project of Annenberg/CPB, a unit of the Annenberg Foundation.
* As the California Native American Heritage Commission -- an independent commission established by the California legislature in 1976 to preserve the cultural heritage of California's Native American tribes -- reported in 1998, "Despite entering the union as a free state in 1850, the California legislature rapidly enacted a series of laws legalizing Indian slavery." One such law, titled "An Act for the Governing and Protection of Indians," passed the California legislature in April 1850 and instituted a "policy" legalizing slavery for certain Native Americans.
* Although California was a "free state," "[D]uring the greater Gold Rush era some 200-300 African American slaves, forced to gold fields by southern masters, toiled in California," according to the California State Library newsletter, CONNECTION.