California History:  Educating California

What’s on this Web page:  Phoenixonian Institute, Watsonville’s Colored School, Daniel Scott’s School, and San Francisco’s Chinese Primary School.

The ABCs of School Integration

Segregation was the norm in 19th-century America, including the final frontier that was California.  Denied the rights of U.S. citizens, minority groups looked to the courts for redress.  After the Civil War (1861-1865), California provided funds for a school district to establish a separate school for African Americans—at the school board’s discretion.  Before 1865, only white students were allowed to attend public schools in the state.  By 1875, California’s constitution granted African Americans the right to attend integrated public schools.  Despite the change in constitution, some school districts continued to operate separate schools for black and white students for years.

Then it was Chinese Californians who had to fight for the right to attend public schools in 1884; California Indians won the right to attend public schools in 1924.  Even in progressive California (a black man was elected mayor of Wheatland in Yuba County in 1888!), it took a big city like San Francisco a long time to admit minority students to its desegregated public schools:  African Americans in 1899, American Indians in 1921, and Chinese Americans in 1929.  Well, San Francisco was at least ahead of other parts of the state and the South.

It’s important to keep in mind that as late as 1921, the state expressly allowed a school district to keep children of American Indian, Chinese, or Japanese descent in separate schools.  After more legal challenges, a California appellate court upheld an earlier decision to ban separate schools for Mexican Americans in 1946 (state laws never mentioned Mexican Americans specifically).  One year later, the California legislature repealed the 1921 separate school provision in 1947, officially ending legalized segregation in the state’s public schools—seven years before the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ended “separate but equal” by banning racial segregation in all public schools (Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka).  Unfortunately, many Mexican Californian students continued to attend segregated schools well into the 1970s.

Note that Earl Warren (1891-1974) was the governor of California when the last school segregation laws were repealed, the same man who would later write the historic opinion in the Brown case.

Phoenixonian Institute, San Jose, Santa Clara Co.*

...cr.nps.gov (U.S. Department of the Interior:  National Park Service—Links to the Past…select Cultural Groups under A Cultural Resource Subject, then click on Five Views:  An Ethnic Historic Site Survey for California)

  • First secondary school for African Americans in the western U.S.
  • Established in 1861 with private and state funding
  • Operated at different sites in the city (no marker today)

Colored School, Watsonville, Santa Cruz Co.

...cr.nps.gov (U.S. Department of the Interior:  National Park Service—Links to the Past…select Cultural Groups under A Cultural Resource Subject, then click on Five Views:  An Ethnic Historic Site Survey for California)

  • Established in 1866 on private land after an African American complained to the school board (now private residence?)

Daniel Scott’s School, Visalia, Tulare Co.

...cr.nps.gov (U.S. Department of the Interior:  National Park Service—Links to the Past…select Cultural Groups under A Cultural Resource Subject, then click on Five Views:  An Ethnic Historic Site Survey for California)

  • Established in 1874 with private and state funding (no marker today)

Chinese Primary School, San Francisco, San Francisco Co.*

...memory.loc.gov (The Library of Congress:  American Memory—click on Immigration, American Expansion, then The Chinese in California)
...askasia.org (Asia Society:  click on Teachers, then Instructional Resources, the Resources by Region/Country, then Asian Americans, then Asian Americans Then and Now)

  • Established in 1885 after California Supreme Court ruling
  • Renamed Commodore Stockton School in 1924

Note that the first American school in California was held at Mission Santa Clara in Santa Clara in 1847 (see California Missions).  The first public school in California (CHL 587) was opened in San Francisco in 1848; the marker is located at Portsmouth Plaza.  An asterisk indicates San Francisco Bay Area destination; CHL means California Historical Landmark.

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