Jeremiah Sanderson, born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, was an abolitionist leader on both the east and west coasts. He started his work at the young age of 19 as the secretary of the New Bedford Colored Citizens. After his service in New Bedford he began to speak out for the abolitionist cause for the New England Anti-Slavery Society. Sanderson was one of two Massachusetts delegates to the 1853 National Convention of Colored People. In the early 1850s Sanderson moved his family to Northern California and settled in Stockton where he thought his children would have a better chance for racial equality. The Sanderson family did not find the equality they sought.
Consequently Sanderson quickly became an activist in California. In 1856 he started the first school for children of color in Sacramento. He funded the project with his own money and other private donations since the state would not provide support. Sanderson continued his work in education. He was appointed principal of San Francisco’s first black public school in 1864. Four years later he returned to teaching in Stockton. Throughout this era Sanderson worked closely with Peter Anderson, the editor of the San Francisco’s Pacific Appeal, one of two African American newspapers in the city, in an effort to desegregate California schools.
Sanderson was also heavily involved in politics. He was the secretary of the first California Colored Convention and a delegate in all four conventions. In 1871 Sanderson was appointed Vice President of a convention held in Stockton on the education of children of color. Sanderson was also a minister and led his community through his church.
Jeremiah Sanderson died in a tragic train accident in 1875. He was survived by his wife and children. His daughter, Mary Sanderson Graves, was the first black public school teacher in California.