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Jeremiah B. Sanderson: The Black Civil Rights Activist Whose Story Is Untold

Jeremiah B. Sanderson is one of many Black civil rights activists whose stories and contributions into the history of the Black community have been almost forgotten.

Sanderson, a Black educator and civil rights organiser, was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1821. He was a free man who grew up warmed by the spirit of abolitionism.

He saw California as a land of opportunities for Black people though at that time the state was largely segregated, for example, Black students were prohibited from being admitted to schools by law.

Sanderson’s contribution into desegregation and creation of equal economic prospectives for African-Americans can hardly be overestimated. He was a brilliant speaker and a persistent activist, he managed to secure state funding for Black schools in Sacramento and san Francisco and even became the principal in one of them, though was later fired because only a white woman could be found to work as his assistant and a Black man couldn’t be in a superior position to a white person at that time.


He continued to work as a teacher not giving up his struggle for equal opportunities for Black children. “We are scattered over the State in small numbers; the laws scarcely recognising us,” wrote Sanderson in 1855. “Public sentiment is prejudiced against us; we are misunderstood, and misrepresented; it was needful that we should meet, communicate, and confer with each other upon some plan of representing our interests before the people of California.”

Sanderson’s life ended tragically in 1875 when he was run over by a train. He was mourned by both Black and white Californians.  Though full desegregation of American school is yet to be achieved, Sanderson’s efforts as a civil rights activist are worth remembering.


Written by PH

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