Santa Monica Mountains home to a mountain with a racist name, until a group fought for change

It was both exciting, but heartbreaking news for a Southern California family.

They learned that one of their patriarchs was one of the region’s pioneers. But, the mountain was named after the N-word.

Some people came together to right the wrong. The now mostly forgotten story of the renaming started in the late 2000’s. Paul and Leah Culberg live near the mountain, which is west of Highway 101 near Kanan Road, in the Agoura Hills area. Along with a friend, they decided to appeal to then Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky for help.

Then, there was a great coincidence. Moorpark College Professor and local historian Patty Coleman was doing research for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation area. She discovered that an African-American family moved to the mountains in the 1880’s.

She discovered that John Ballard was a true Southern California pioneer. He was one of the founders of LA’s famous First AME Church, and voted as soon as the discriminatory voting laws were changed.

She gave a lecture about her findings, and those involved in the renaming effort were there. They realized that John Ballard was the man whose family had lived near the mountain, leading to its name.

Then, the media provided an unexpected boost to the effort. The Los Angeles Times did a story about the mountain, and used a picture of John Ballard. Some of his descendants recognized the photo.

Coleman set up a meeting at Moorpark College, and more than a dozen members of the Ballard family came, and learned more about John Ballard.

So, it was decided to pursue renaming the mountain after John Ballard. Paul and Leah Culberg says things then moved quickly. The United State Geological Survey approved the name change to B allard Mountain.

A new documentary tells the story of the man behind the mountain, and how people came together to change the mountain’s name.

Ana Beatriz Cholo, with the National Park Service, wrote and produced To Right a Wrong: The Story of Ballard Mountain. She says the idea came about in 2020 after she did a social media post about John Ballard, and realized few people knew the story.

Ryan Ballard says it’s important the story be told, and remembered.

You can view To Right A Wrong: The Story of Ballard Mountain here.

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