Edmond Edward Wysinger
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African American Pioneer of California
By Myra Lynn Wysinger
Edmond Edward Wysinger    

January 29, 1890 in the court case Wysinger vs. Crookshank the California Supreme Court ruled that public school districts in California may not establish separate schools for children of African descent and Indians. This court case especially ended legal segregation of African Americans in California's public schools. (Wysinger vs. Crookshank (1890) 82 Cal 588, 720)

The early life of Wysinger

Edmond Edward Wysinger was one of the first African American to migrate to California from the South. He was born in the year 1816, offspring of a Native American Cherokee Indian and a Black slave girl on a plantation in South Carolina. Edmond had taken on the last name of his slave owner. His original Indian name was "Bush".

At the age of 32, in the early part of 1849 with his German owner, they made the long perilous trip through Indian territory by ox-team and covered wagon to Grass Valley, California by way of Donner Pass, arriving around October of 1849--the height of the Gold Rush.

After arriving in the Northern mine area of California's Mother Lode Gold Belt, Wysinger with a group of 100 or more African American miners, were surface mining in and around Morman, Mokelumne Hill at Placerville and Grass Valley. Mokelumne Hill was called "Moke Hill." This region was first inhabited by a tribe of Miwok Native Americans who were called "Mokelumne," which means people of Mokel. "Moke Hill" began to grow after gold was discovered in 1848. Place names like Negro Hill, Negro Bar (today it is under the water of Lake Natoma, and Negro Flat attest to the presence of blacks in California. Wysinger mined at Mokelumne, Murphy's Camp, Diamond and Mud Springs, Grass Valley, Negro Bar, and elsewhere in the mining districts of California. It took Wysinger about a year to buy his freedom for $1000. Reference: Beasley, Negro Trail Blazers of California, 1919, p. 105.
See also [Personal Sketches of Slaves].
See February 9, 1850 newspaper article in the Sacramento Placer Times... describes the diggings.

"A look at the Stockton City Directory and the census reveals that at least two families living in that city in the 1850's would make a mark in California black history. The Hyer family children later became a talented singing group, and the Wysinger family decendants made the legal challenge in the 1890s that eliminated the last vestiges of school discrimination in nineteenth-century California."
Rudolph M. Lapp, Blacks in Gold Rush California, 1977, pp. 115-116.

Edmond Edward Wysinger is mentioned in the following books: Delilah L. Beasley, The Negro Trail Blazers of California, 1919, pp. 105 & 183; Rudolph M. Lapp, Blacks in Gold Rush California, 1977, pp. 115-116, 184; Lawrence B. De Graaf, Seeking El Dorado: African Americans in California, 2001, p. 110; California Reporter [Law], 1890; Gilbert Thomas Stephenson, Race Distinctions in American Law, 1910;  Charles A. Mangum Jr., The Legal Status of the Negro, 1940; and Charles Wollenberg, All Deliberate Speed: Segregation and Exclusion in California Schools, 1855-1975, published in 1976; Randell Kenan, Walking on Water: Black American Lives at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century, 2000, p. 44; Michael Eissinger, African Americans In The Rural San Joaquin Valley, California: Colonization Efforts And Township, 2009, p. 46. 

Gold dust allowed thousands to gain freedom

By 1860, twelve years after the discovery of gold at Stutter's Mill, more than 5000 African American had made the difficult trek to California in search of quick wealth. The slaves who were brought in by their owners could escape and be freed. Most of the black men had to work a year or more to pay for their freedom papers, or to send money to their relatives for their freedom in the South. The black miners came to California with the thought of having better days. The allurement of gold was for the white man. The privilege of working in the mines that they might earn their freedom was to the black miners more precious than gold. Many of California's black pioneers arrived as slaves and worked double-time until they had earned the thousand(s) of dollars necessary to buy their freedom. Black miners had plenty of California pay dirt -- by 1863, they were collectively worth about $5 million. The black miners in 1849 could not legally own their own claims, because they were not given the protection of California Law at that time. The white miners had laws of their own, and were often fair and kind to the black miners.

A nation divided: The U.S. Civil War 1861-1865

In 1849 California adopts an antislavery constitution, and in 1850 was admitted into the U.S. as a free state. Twelfth President Zachary Taylor was for California coming in as a free state. He didn’t think California’s climate was conducive to slavery. In fact, Taylor thought of himself as an independent. He differed with the Democrats over the concept of a strong national bank and opposed the extension of slavery into areas where neither cotton nor sugar could be grown. Taylor was a wealthy slave owner who held properties in the plantation states of Louisiana, Kentucky, and Mississippi. During his brief time in office (he died only sixteen months after his election), his presidency foundered over the question of whether the national government should permit the spread of slavery to the present-day states of California, New Mexico, and Utah, then newly won from Mexico. November 6, 1860, Abraham Lincoln, who had declared "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free . . . ." is elected president. Slavery ended in 1865.

Wysinger continues his journey

In 1853, Alfred and Susan (Suzie) Wilson (b. 1820), arrived in Miles Creek, Mariposa County, California from Wayne County, Missouri, going first to Texas then to California by way of ox-team. There were more than a 100 wagons in the ox-driven team lasting from March 1853 to December of that year. (Beasley, p. 122 [full text]) In the 1860 Census Report for Merced County can be found Alfred and Susan Wilson. Alfred Wilson was mentioned in a past exhibit "Ghost Towns of Merced County."  A subsequent booklet of the exhibit features a photograph of Alfred's hilltop grave near the ghost town of Gwin.

The tombstone states that Alfred Wilson was born in 1818 and died in 1863.

Edmond Edward Wysinger met and married the Wilson's daughter Pernesa C. on July 24, 1864. From the 1871 voter records they were in Visalia, California. To this union eight children were born; six boys Jesse Edward (b.1865), Arthur Eugene (b.1877), James Walter (b.1874), Reuben Carl (b.1871), Hervey Monroe (b.1880), Marion Andrew (b.1883), and two girls Martha Maltida (b.1867) and Bertha V. (b.1885).
See 1880 US Census Report of Visalia.
(Information also from the US Census Reports of Oakland and Berkeley, California)

The California Supreme Court Case

In the 1860s, Visalia was a community deeply divided by the Civil War. Many sided with the South. Despite the turmoil, Wysinger stayed in the community. Edmond, a self-educated man, worked as a laborer, and part time preacher. He stressed the importance of education for his children. He tried to admit his son Arthur to a regular public school, he was refused admission, resulting in him being morally compelled to enter a suit against the county school board of education in the Supreme Court of the State California in October of 1888. On March 1, 1890, the California Supreme Court, in Wysinger v. Crookshank reversed a lower court decision and ordered 12-year-old Arthur Wysinger admitted to Visalia's regular school system. As the result of Edmond winning this historical court case Arthur went on to be the first African American student to graduate from a public high school in Visalia, California."
(The Negro Trail Blazers of California, page 186, 1919). This case made it possible for Indians and African American children to attend any public school in their districts in California.

If the people of the state desire separate schools for citizens of African descent, and Indians, their wish may be accomplished by laws enacted by the law-making department of the government in accordance with existing constitutional provisions. But this course has not been pursued, as the law stood in 1890, and the powers given to boards of education and school trustees, under section 1617 of the Political Code, do not include the right claimed by the board of education of Visalia. The laws segregating Chinese children remained on the books probably because it was the general impression that only discriminatory laws aimed at African Americans and Indians were forbidden by the Fourteenth Amendment.

California was the only state whose legislature considered the Fourteenth Amendment and yet did not reach an official stand on the matter. Before the Fourteenth Amendment was proclaimed the law of the land, the legislature in 1866, relaxed the pattern of compulsory segregation when the school law was revised to permit black children to enter “white” schools, provided a majority of the white parents did not object. This provision survived changes made in the school laws in 1870 and 1872; and, in 1874 a bill to eliminate segregated schools led to the adoption of a law which required the admission of black children “into schools for white children” if separate schools were not provided. Later in this same year the state Supreme Court upheld segregated schools despite the petitioner’s claim that this practice violated the Amendment. Ward v. Flood (1874) 48 Cal. 36. Then in 1890 legislature then revised the school laws and eliminated the provisions which had been held to require separate schools for black children. California Statutes. 1880, p. 48; Wysinger v Crookshank (1890) 82 Cal 588, 720. (See Sacramento newspaper article 1890).

Edmond Edward Wysinger died February 3, 1891 in Visalia, at the age of 75. His wife Pernesa died in January 29, 1893.

Family members relocate to the Bay Area

After their mother passed away, the rest of the family moved to Oakland, California, to stay with the oldest brother Jesse. Pernesa's mother Susan Wilson lived to be 102, and lived in the care of her granddaughter Martha Wysinger Quinn of Oakland.

Jesse Wysinger, on October 22, 1921 became the editor of The Western Outlook, 1894-1928 (San Francisco): A Newspaper Devoted to the Interests of the Negro on the Pacific Coast. Jesse, fifty-five, a California native who also worked as a porter at a paper company. He may have inspired his eighteen-year-old daughter, Gladys, who later became an editor at the San Francisco Spokesman, to pursue a career in journalism. In 1934, Jesse's wife, Lena M. Wysinger, took over Delilah Beasley's Activities Among Negroes column in the famous mainstream Oakland Tribune after her death. The columnist position Lena held until the early 1940s.

Artists' model Florence Wysinger Allen (1913–1997) was the daughter of Edmond's son, Marion.

Arthur Wysinger, from the court case

From the US Census reports of 1900 & 1910 Arthur age 22 was living in Oakland, his occupation was Assistant Shipping Clerk for a iron works company. In 1910 he lived in Berkeley and states his occupation as a R.R. Porter for the Pullman Palace Car Company. At this time five of the six brothers were Rail Road Porters and Coachmen. [Source]

The Pullman Palace Car Company, founded by George Pullman, manufactured railroad cars in the mid to late 1800s through the early decades of the 20th century, during the boom of railroads in the United States. After George Pullman's death in 1898, Robert Todd Lincoln (1843–1926), first son of Abraham Lincoln became company president. In 1927 Pullman porters were unionized in the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters under an African American A. Philip Randolph, and C. L. Dellums, its vice president the uncle of the now Mayor of Oakland Ron Dellums. It should also be noted that the Pullman company was the largest employer of African Americans in the U.S. "At a time when most middle class jobs were closed to blacks by a racist society, Pullman Porters had a degree of economic stability and respect that most other lacked. They became one of the building blocks of the black middle class." [Source]

My great-grandfather Reuben Carl Wysinger

Edmond's other son Reuben Carl farmed peaches and grapes on a farm in Fowler (Fresno county). The acres at the homestead was passed on to his son Vossa, Sr. Then the farm was passed down to his son Virgil. The making of four generation farmers. Virgil's brother Vossa, Jr. settled in Berkeley, CA in 1945 after serving in WW II. Their sister Venette had a farm in Fowler, CA. These family members are now deceased.

The following is from the book by Delilah L. Beasley, "The Negro Trail Blazers of California", 1919, p. 153. This was reprinted in 1969.

1919 - "Fowler, California, is one of the most interesting districts in the San Joaquin Valley. The holdings of the colored people in the district prove beyond a doubt that they are capable of pioneering.

Mr. Reuben Wysinger, a native son, owns a good ranch of fifteen acres planted in Muscat, Tompkins and seedless raisin grapes. These grapes yield, on an average, a ton to the acre and are marketed for $50 to $100 an acre. He also has a peach orchard of the "Muir" and "Alberta" peaches which yield two tons to the acre and sell all the way from $100 to $150 an acre.

Mr. Wysinger and two other colored gentlemen, realizing the possibilities of this section of California in the fruit industry, decided to procure a plot of land while the price was within their reach. They purchased a plot of eighty acres, paying $100 down and in five months paying another hundred dollars, which entitled them to a deed, with five years in which to pay the remaining indebtedness at 10 per cent interest. They paid twenty dollars an acre at the date of purchase, some fifteen years ago. Today one could not buy the same ground for several hundred dollars an acre. After securing the deed to the plot each man settled on his share and began the cultivation of the laud. It will be impossible to give the experience of every one of the gentlemen, but that of Mr. Wysinger can safely be taken as an example of them all. His experience and perseverance show what one can do with a will. He was employed during the day. After night, with the assistance of his wife, he planted his peach orchard and vineyard. Owing to their lack of experience, it required years of hard work before they were able to secure a crop of anything. They never faltered and finally conquered, and today they have a wonderful ranch that any one in the valley would be proud to own. The best part of it all is, they own a beautiful, modern home and an automobile from the products of a well-paying ranch. They have a family of three children, to whom they are giving the best education that the State affords. They are also giving them actual experience in ranch life, so that, if they wish, they can remain on the ranch and be independent."

University of California Pays Tribute

Lavonne Rochon (retired), Myra Wysinger (retired) and Valerie Wysinger (retired) , have carried on the educational legacy of their great-great-grandfather, working at the University of California. [Source]

This web site was created in loving memory of all family members who have paved the way for others to follow. You have not been forgotten. We shall honor you always.
Wysinger v Crookshank Court Record (1890)
1880 U.S. Census, Visalia, CA
Brown v Board of Education
Family Research Sites
A History of Black Americans in California: Education
Compiled and edited by Myra Wysinger, great-great-granddaughter of Edmond Edward Wysinger
Last edited 2011

This photograph shows four miners, two of whom are black, working in what appears to be conditions of equality.
Attributed to Joseph Blaney Starkweather, Miners at Spanish Flat, El Dorado County. Collection of the California State Library
Murphy's Camp, Calaveras County, July 1853
Black miner digging for gold at Auburn Ravine in 1852
Collection of California State Library
Click to enlarge
Excellent books, video and museum about the African American experience in early California:
The Negro Trail Blazers of California:
A Compilation of Records from the California Archives in the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley (1919)
by Delilah L. Beasley

317 pages

Buy a reprint here.

View online
Blacks in Gold Rush California
(Yale Western Americana Series)
by Rudolph Lapp

336 pages

Yale University Press; Reissue edition (September 27, 1995)
Visalia Colored School, April 13, 1939.
Aerial photo of the Wysinger farm in Fowler
Historic U.S. Cases 1690-1993:
An Encyclopedia New York
Click photo to enlarge
1900 U.S. Census, Oakland, CA
Research links:

Valley Voice 2005

History Lost: One Man's Legacy, Porterville Recorder (California), By Nick Gayton

Slavery in the California Gold Rush

African Americans: Gold Rush Era to 1900

A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum

Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters

Black History of Tulare, California

California Digital Newspaper Collection

The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

The California GenWeb Project

Family Search


California Pioneer Project

Porterville Recorder (2006)
Newspaper Articles
Valley Voice (2005)

A journey across more than 100 years of history to discover a story that has been largely untold . . .

PBS: KVIE’s latest production, African Americans In California’s Heartland explores the history of African Americans in the Central Valley and Sierra Nevada from the Gold Rush through the 1950’s.

California Central Valley Museum:

African American Historical & Cultural Museum