Honoring Civil Rights Pioneer

September 11, 2008 7:58:52 PM PDT
It took decades for a civil rights pioneer to finally receive honors thanks to a little girl and a historian. Nearly a century ago, Edmond Wysinger went all the way to the California's Supreme Court to break Visalia's school segregation. Flowers mark a happy ending for Andrea Martinez. The 9 year old and her mother worked on a history project together and learned about Wysinger's struggle for civil rights. But they were shocked to see only a small and damaged part of his headstone remained at Visalia's Public Cemetery. Martinez said, "Some people just don't care history, and I think people should know about him."

In 1890, Wysinger a former slave successfully sued Visalia's school district to get his son into what is now Redwood High School. At that time, African Americans attended a separate school that was clearly unequal. Andrea, her mother and Black Historian Michael Smith honored Wysinger on Thursday and placed a proper headstone on his grave surrounded by flowers. Smith said, "How important was his lawsuit? His lawsuit opened the door for many blacks to follow in schools California. Unfortunately, he passed before he could see his son graduate."

The school for African Americans once stood at this corner of Houston and Dinuba in Visalia. A local historian said in all of Visalia, there are no memorials commemorating both the school and Wysinger's enormous effort.

All by his graveside hope more is done to remember his struggle for equality. Teresa Ramirez, Andrea's mother, said, "If you believe in something doesn't matter what everybody else says. It's what you believe in. And you go for it and you do it."

Andrea said she is very proud to see the new headstone in place. In a small twist of irony, Andrea said her teacher gave her a 'C' on the class project, but everyone around the 4th grader is giving her an 'A' for teaching an entire community.

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