San Diego History Center

San Diego's New Virtual Exhibit Showcases Incredible Life of Black Homesteader Nathan Harrison

The exhibit features artifacts from Palomar Mountain and a virtual reality element where people can make the trek up the mountain to experience the three-day journey

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The San Diego History Center is spotlighting a notable San Diegan in a new virtual exhibit that showcases how he overcame adversity and trekked up an area mountain and became a local legend.

San Diego Black homesteader, Nathan Harrison, is the star of the center's new exhibit, which opens virtually on March 18.

There is so much to learn from about this exhibit, which includes local artifacts from on top of Palomar Mountain and a virtual reality element that really takes you on the journey that many trekked on in the late 1800s to get to the mountain.

Nathan Harrison, a former slave who was originally from Kentucky, lived in a small cabin up on Palomar Mountain from the 1850s to 1920. San Diegans would hike up the mountain to visit Harrison -- an endeavor that would take three days back then!

His story is surely one about resilience. Remarkably, Harrison was able to overcome so many obstacles throughout his life.

Harrison and his life are the main components of the new exhibit.

An interesting feature of this exhibit is that it showcases items found at Harrison's cabin. An anthropology professor from San Diego State University (SDSU) and some of his students dug right where Harrison’s cabin sat all the way on top of Palomar Mountain and found some artifacts that are now being featured.

“It wasn’t just an important African-American story, it was an important American story," said Seth Mallios, Professor of Anthropology at SDSU. "It’s one of perseverance, resilience of overcoming obstacles, and this is an individual who ended up living into his late 80’s or early 90’s; about three times of the life span of most former enslaved individuals."

"This is truly a notable individual, a San Diego pioneer, and one worth studying," Mallios added.

Also a big feature-  a virtual reality element where people can make the trek up the mountain themselves and learn all about this incredible life lived.

“There has been a lot of mythology around him. There are historical sources who tell us who he was. But what’s neat with this exhibit is now we have the archeology to bridge those two and tell that story in a new way along with details that were not known before,” added Tina Zarpour, Ph.D. with San Diego History Center.

The San Diego History Center also has a physical exhibit that will be open soon since San Diego County is now in the red tier.

That exhibit has a life-sized replica of Harrison’s 11-inch-by-11-inch cabin on the top of Palomar Mountain that the center rebuilt based on historical photos.

For more information on the exhibit, click here.

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