online book
Colonel Allensworth
Five Views: An Ethnic Historic Site Survey for California



A.M.E. Church
current topic Education
Noted Individuals

Historic Sites
Selected References


A History of Black Americans in California:

While the convention's primary objective was repeal of the law that deprived Black people of the right to testimony, education was also recognized as a key issue. Many delegates considered education to be the vehicle for change. Convention delegates spoke of education as "a quality, a means to dignify men, to enable them to command respect of their fellows and increase their intelligence and wealth." [7]

An education committee was created at the Second Convention, held at the same location in Sacramento, December 9-12, 1856. The education committee did much to secure educational opportunities for Black youth. A statewide committee of Black men selected by the Second Convention's general assembly spearheaded the campaign to repeal the 1852 law that barred Black children from the common schools. [8] Concurrently, it assisted parent groups trying to secure admission to their local common schools, and as an interim measure, it established private schools to provide immediate instruction.

The Black church, and particularly the African Methodist Episcopal Church of California (A.M.E.), through its missions and stations, opened the first schools. By 1854, both the Sacramento and San Francisco A.M.E. churches had set up classrooms in their basements. Actions taken by Black parents in local school districts precipitated a series of amendments to legislation concerning segregated schools. Incremental changes between 1852 and 1879 gave Black children legal access to a separate, although unequal, education. Statutory proscription of Black children's right to a public education was not repealed until 1880.

For a limited period in the 1850s, some school districts admitted Black children to common schools. When the Grass Valley Common School opened in 1854, three Black children were admitted. Parents, on learning that the presumably White children each had a Black parent, petitioned the trustees for their removal. The trustees refused, and the petition was forwarded to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction who invoked the 1852 statute and ordered the trustees to exclude the children or lose their state funding. The trustees refused. The superintendent, who at that time did not have the power to revoke funding, could not censor the trustees. The legislature soon amended the school segregation bill to give the State Superintendent censorship power. After 1860, the superintendent could indeed censor a district by removing its state funds.

Formal educational institutions housed in buildings outfitted as schools began to appear in the 1860s through efforts organized by Black communities and supported by their subscriptions. Private schools opened in towns like Nevada City, Marysville, Oakland, San Jose, and Red Bluff. In 1864, the State Superintendent of Public Schools, John Swett, in his Thirteenth Annual Report, stated that there were 831 Black school-age children in California, and six state-supported "colored schools." Located in San Francisco, Sacramento, Marysville, San Jose, Stockton, and Petaluma, these schools could serve only a fraction of the Black youth. Furthermore, the colored schools did not meet the Black communities' requirement that their children enjoy equal access to publicly supported education. In 1872, Mrs. Harriet A. Ward, on behalf of her daughter Mary Frances who was denied admission by Principal Noah Flood of the Broadway School in San Francisco, initiated California's first school segregation court case. Eighteen months later, the State Supreme Court established the principle of "separate but equal" in California school law, in the Ward v. Flood case.

Even after the school segregation legislation was repealed, vestiges of discriminatory practices against Black students had to be removed through judicial intervention. Visalia, a district in Tulare County that resisted educating its Black youth until 1873, did not desegregate until 1890, and then only under a court order. Edmund Wysinger, a Black resident of Visalia, filed a writ of mandate on behalf of his minor son, Arthur, on October 2, 1888, challenging a public institution's authority to deny a group its constitutional right because of race, color, or national origin. On March 1, 1890, the California Supreme Court, in Wysinger v. Crookshank [9] reversed a lower court decision and ordered 12-year-old Arthur Wysinger admitted to Visalia's regular school system.

School segregation emerged again in the twentieth century. The pattern, however, differed from that of the previous century. By 1910, schools staffed with White personnel were the general practice. Black teachers were barred as public school teachers, just as they were from most other non-menial occupations. School districts excluded trained Black professionals until the 1950s by requiring teachers to have at least one year's experience in California under a regular appointment, an eligibility criterion that could not be met in a closed system.

Ironically, El Centro's Elementary District, among the state's most rigidly segregated systems, inadvertently made it possible in 1913 for a few teachers to circumvent the barriers to professional opportunity. El Centro followed the Southern segregation model, in which the staff and students were a racially homogeneous group. Consequently, only Black teachers could be assigned to teach Black students, and the assignments were regular teaching appointments. Given the obvious benefits of regular teaching appointments, the city's elementary and high school districts attracted the state's most talented teachers. Despite the inadequacies of facilities at the two Black schools, their curriculum and instructional staff were superior. [10]

Teachers who held regular appointments in El Centro achieved at least the formal requirements for employment in other districts in the state that had predominantly Black schools.

Holmes Avenue in Los Angeles was the first school in that city where Black teachers who had the requisite teaching experience could secure an appointment. Erected in 1910 adjacent to the Furlong Tract, a Black settlement established on a subdivided tract, it was the first school in Los Angeles specifically built for a Black neighborhood. For many years, the staff at Holmes Avenue was totally White. When the district finally did hire Black staff members, most had received their training in El Centro.

Allensworth women
Allensworth women, Tulare County [circa 1920]

NEXT> Industry

online book Top

Last Modified: Wed, Nov 17 2004 10:00:00 pm PDT

ParkNet Home