Sam McDonald: A Stanford Pioneer

Decorative green image with tan shapes as a boarder with the text 'Roots'

Emanuel Bruce “Sam” McDonald was born in Monroe, Louisiana in 1884 - nineteen years after slavery had been abolished in the United States. His mother had been enslaved until the end of the Civil War. His father, a Methodist minister, was the child of parents who had both been enslaved.

Photograph of The Reverend Peter Bird McDonald
Sam McDonald’s father, the Reverend Peter Bird McDonald.
Photo published without attribution in Sam McDonald’s 1954 autobiography, Sam McDonald’s Farm.

The McDonald family moved to California in 1890 and worked in sugar beet fields - first in southern California and then in Santa Clara County. In Gilroy the McDonalds were the only Black family in town. Sam McDonald left school by the seventh grade to help with the farmwork. When his family moved again to Washington state in 1900, Sam McDonald left his family to return to California on his own.

Photograph of a young Sam McDonald
Young Sam McDonald
Photo published without attribution in Sam McDonald’s 1954 autobiography Sam McDonald’s Farm.

My mind was definitely made up to return to heavenly California… The more I proceeded into California the more my joys and happiness increased, reaching the supreme point when I caught a glimpse of the grand Sacramento Valley.

Image of Southern Pacific Railroad promotional brochure
Southern Pacific Railroad promotional brochure.
Courtesy the California State Railroad Museum Library and Archives.