So began Edmond Wysinger's two-year journey through California's justice system that ended in the Supreme Court of the State of California.

Wysinger hired Visalia attorneys, W.A. Gray and Oregon Sanders, who sought a writ of mandate to have Wysinger's son admitted to the public school. The writ was denied.

The court - prior to the repeal of California Political Code 1669-1671 in 1880 - said the schooling of black children was provided for, but in separate schools.

However, under California Political Code 1662, all children between the ages of 6 and 21 were admitted to public schools unless they had a contagious disease or had "vicious habits."

Furthermore, under California Political Code 1617, school boards only had authority to enforce procedure that did not go against California law. Essentially, the power to establish separate schooling, and to exclude black children, had been taken away from the school board.

The state Supreme Court reversed the trial court's decision and also the order denying Wysinger's motion for a new trial.

The Visalia court was issued an order mandating the admission of Arthur Wysinger to Visalia High School.

Edmond Wysinger had successfully challenged the legality of California law and eliminated one the last vestiges of school discrimination in 1890.

An obvious icon of American civil rights, Edmond Wysinger's legacy was somehow lost - seemingly stricken from Visalia's public record and California history.

"I read about the case a couple of years ago, but was surprised that I had not heard of it prior to then,"  said Jim Vidak, superintendent of Tulare County Office of Education. "I've always believed that you should work together as a community to change the course of events and this is one case that certainly did. I'm really going to get schools going on this, especially this month."

When asked why he thought this case wasn't widely known, local Visalia history buff Terry Ommen said: "I think when you've got an embarrassing case, the community would rather not focus on it. You would think that since Visalia played such an important part of the case that it would be part of the local school curriculum."

The man behind the challenge Edmond Wysinger was born on a South Carolina plantation in 1816. His father was from the Cherokee tribe and his mother was a black slave.

In 1849, at 32, Wysinger and his German owner made the arduous journey across the United States through hostile American Indian territory by ox team and covered wagon. They made the perilous trek to Grass Valley by way of the notorious Donner Pass, named for the doomed Donner party whose members perished after being caught in a snow storm.

The two 49ers arrived in California in early October during at the height of the gold rush. Wysinger had already passed a milestone in history by being one of the first black men to migrate to California from the south.

Working in the mines of California's Mother Lode gold belt, Wysinger and a group of other black miners surface-mined in and around Mormon, Mokelumne Hill, Placerville and Grass Valley. Place names like Negro Hill, Negro Bar and Negro Flat confirm the historical presence of blacks during the time. Wysinger mined all through the Grass Valley area including Murphy's Camp, Diamond Springs and Mud Springs.

The allure of gold mining for blacks was more than wealth. It meant freedom - freedom to buy themselves from slavery, freedom to escape their owners once in California and freedom for relatives still living on plantations in the South.

After a year of grueling work, Wysinger bought his freedom for $1,000.

Wysinger met and married Pernesa Wilson in 1862 and shortly thereafter moved to Visalia.

Visalia was notorious for siding with the South - both before and during the Civil War - and widely known statewide as a secessionist community. Union soldiers were even brought in to stop any possible uprising, thus Fort Babbitt was established.

Despite the turmoil surrounding him, Wysinger remained in Visalia and worked as a laborer and community preacher. He always stressed the importance of education for all his children.

Arthur Wysinger went on to become the first black student to graduate from public high school in Visalia. Edmond Wysinger died in 1891, at 75, and his wife died two years later. The family eventually moved to Oakland where Jessie Wysinger worked as a reporter. Other family members owned a farm near Fowler California.

About the author & graphic artist:

Nick S. Gayton, 47, was an award-winning graphic artist who worked at the Visalia Times-Delta and more recently, was an award-winning graphic artist at the Porterville Recorder. He died unexpectedly on November 4, 2006 at his home in Porterville. During his years at the Times-Delta and at The Recorder, Gayton was the recipient of numerous awards for the graphic illustrations he created to compliment news stories, features and special sections.

Contact The Recorder at (559) 784-5000.

History Lost
One Man's Legacy

Porterville Recorder
By Nick Gayton
March, 2006

"I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today. . . ."

Those words were delivered on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on Aug. 28, 1963, by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Seventy-five years earlier, on Oct. 1, 1888, Edmond Wysinger brought his son Arthur to Visalia High School and said, "Here is my boy to put in your school."

He was told to by the teacher, S.A. Crookshank, to take his son to the "colored" school, thus excluding him from a public school established for white children. Crookshank denied Wysinger's request on the grounds that Visalia's Board of Education provided separate schools for black students.

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