Visalia City Council honors Edmond Edward Wysinger with a resolution noting his contributions to the history of equality in California and nationwide
VISALIA – The Visalia City Council passed a resolution of commendation honoring Edmond Edward Wysinger, a Visalia man whose 1890 Supreme Court case began the end of racial segregation in California public schools.
The resolution was passed at the Feb. 7 Visalia City Council meeting. Wysinger’s case represents a significant turning point in the desegregation of schools in California and eventually the United States of America.
“It is something that transformed education across not only Visalia, but the entire world and the country,” said Brandon Gridiron, director of equity and student services for Visalia Unified School District.
Wysinger was born in South Carolina in 1816 to a Black father and Cherokee mother. He was brought west while still enslaved in 1849, becoming one of the first African Americans to migrate to California from the South. Wysinger spent several years mining gold near Grass Valley and saved up enough to buy his freedom for $485.90, and the freedom of two others for $150, from Elizabeth Walthall in 1854. He then met his wife Penecia Wilson, and together they moved to Visalia in 1862, where they had their 8 children.
When Wysinger’s son Arthur was 12 years old, the family tried to enroll him at Visalia School. At the time, the school only accepted white students–the Black children of Visalia attended “Visalia Colored School,” where classes were held in a barnhouse.
Arthur was refused entry to Visalia School, which prompted Wysinger to enter a suit against the county school board of education in 1888. He lost his case in the Tulare County Court, but that didn’t dissuade him: in 1890, Wysinger took his case to the California Supreme Court.
In Wysinger vs. Crookshank, the California Supreme Court overturned the Tulare County Court’s ruling, determining that California could no longer have racially segregated public schools.
“It’s because of cases like Mr. Wysinger that I, myself and my own children will have an opportunity to go to schools that are fair, not segregated, and have equal oppo
rtunities,” said Gridiron.
Not only did Wysinger’s case have a profound impact on the California school system, it was a stepping stone for the desegregation of schools nationwide. The Wysinger decision was cited in Briggs vs. Elliott, an appeal of a U.S. District Court decision challenging school segregation in Summerton, SC, which was one of five cases combined into the landmark case of Brown vs. Board of Education. The Brown decision ruled racial segregation of schools, even if they are of equal quality, was unconstitutional.
“As we celebrate Black History Month, the notion is to honor the past and to inspire the future,” Gridiron said. “And that’s what we hope to continue to do by uncovering stories and telling stories of individuals who make great contributions in the effort of becoming a real culturally rich community.”
City council member Brett Taylor read through the resolution detailing the commendation of Wysinger’s life. He first became aware of Wysinger through a project that
Gridiron and Redwood High School teacher Bill Henshaw were working on. After Taylor joined the two for lunch last year he want to propose the resolution.
Henshaw said Gridiron approached him to do something special for Wysinger memory. And after digging into the history he has become more dedicated to his community.
“He’s kind of been the fire for me to get more involved. And so I can’t help but feel the presence of Mr. Wysinger even tonight amongst us and what he served for,” Henshaw said.
WIth six boys of his own he said education is the most important and a story such as Wysinger’s brings that to light.
Henshaw said the most important part of the city’s proclamation is that it leaves the door open for the city to consider naming a park after Wysinger, as he meets all of the qualifications for consideration. Visalia Unified School District is also planning to honor Wysinger with a proclamation at its Feb. 22 board meeting.
-This article was updated at 12:53 pm PST on Feb. 16, 2022.