Agnes Thornton

Dublin Core

Title

Agnes Thornton

Subject

Biography

Description

Agnes Thornton, maiden name Andrews, was born November 11th, 1881 in Atlanta, Georgia to Grant and Elmira Andrews. With a tenacity that stayed with Agnes her entire life, she left home at just fifteen years old and headed north to Ohio, which just a few decades earlier would have traversed the boundary between racial slavery and ambiguous freedom. She lived in Cincinnati until 1909 then moved to Philadelphia. A year later marked the opening of the Great Migration that witnessed the exodus of thousands of African Americans from the South, but ever bristling against the grain, Agnes made the destination for others a departure for herself and migrated to Los Angeles.

Agnes' family consisted of her husband Thomas Thornton one son Arthur Thornton, including one grandson Rudolph. In Los Angeles, like many African American women, Agnes worked as a housekeeper and did laundry work when she was well enough to work outside her home. Even when she was in poor health with restricted mobility, she ran a private restaurant out of her house to make ends meet. In 1920 Agnes lived at 675 Santa Barbara Avenue, which has now been renamed Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Between 1920 and 1926, Agnes and her husband built their new home at 3615 Paloma Street. It was in that home that Agnes' labor in the service of white folks congealed into a dream shared by many black Angelenos. Agnes proudly declared, "...I worked hard, my husband and myself, to accumulate that place. I built it from the ground up, my husband and myself. I laid the foundation when my husband was the superintendent or the contractor laid the foundation."

But in 1926, the District Attorney of Los Angeles accused Agnes of over-insuring her home and subsequently setting fire to it to collect on the policies. The District Attorney accused Agnes of enlisting the help of a Bobby Clark to fabricate two threatening letters that were signed "Revenge." According to the arson investigation, five separate fires were set in the home. Agnes maintained her innocence. Her plea was rooted in the labor exerted in protecting her dream, she told the court, "I just recently put an iron fence around my place, removed the board fence, for fear of fire," then followed with a question couched as a defense, "Why should I burn a house what I had done so much work on?" The courts left Agnes' final plea unredeemed, and she was convicted of arson in the second degree. She served about three years in San Quentin State Prison and was paroled in 1930.[ADD standard parole language] Upon release, Agnes worked in Pasadena as a domestic. Her husband, Thomas, died between 1926 and 1940, possibly before 1935. From at least 1935, Agnes lived in Compton with her son, who was listed as a mechanic in 1940. She died on January 19, 1941 in Los Angeles. It is unknown if she ever built a new home.

Contributor

Marques A. Vestal

Items in the Agnes Thornton Collection

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