VIGNETTE > William L. Patterson

William L. Patterson (1891-1980)

August 3, 1908 was opening day of the brand new Tamalpais High School. Principal/teacher, Ernest E. Wood, welcomed 70 students.  William Patterson entered as a sophomore. A few months earlier his mother had taken a live-in job as cook for Mrs. Georgia Martin and her daughter at Sylvan Dell, a cottage in Sausalito.  William’s mother, Mary Galt, was born a slave in 1850 on a cotton plantation near Norfolk, Virginia. Patterson was the only African-American at Tamalpais High School. His first impression was favorable. In his autobiography written six decades later he states, “The location was in the midst of unsurpassed natural beauty.  The climate was ideal and the environment was conducive to educational achievement.”   He graduated in 1911. There would not be another African-American graduate from Tamalpais High School until 1945.   Both he and the school benefited from his studying there for three years. He was a brilliant student who participated in school sports. His subsequent degree from Hastings College of Law in 1919 prepared him for an active career of furthering the struggle of black people. He became an outstanding leader in campaigns to save victims of racial oppression.