The Blog

California Civil Rights Hero Opened State's Public Schools to Native Americans

If Californians ever doubt the power of one person to change history, they need only reflect on the life of Alice Piper, whose courageous insistence on her right to attend public schools led to a state Supreme Court decision that for the first time allowed Native Americans like Alice to attend local public schools instead of “separate but hardly equal” Indian schools.

Today marks the 90th anniversary of that state court ruling that opened the doors. The day was celebrated in Big Lake, California with the dedication of a memorial and statue in her honor.

A 15-year-old Native American, Piper – like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Caesar Chavez, and Dolores Huerta – refused to take “no” for an answer. Her efforts led to the California Supreme Court overturning state law that barred Native Americans from attending public schools if an “Indian school” was in the vicinity. The court ruled the state laws violated Article 14 of the U.S. Constitution.

(Photo at left) This is the only known photo of 15-year-old Piper.

The ruling in Piper v. Big Pine USD came 30 years before the landmark Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court ruling that specifically outlawed “separate but equal” public schools.

Piper’s legacy was honored today in Big Lake, California. With the help of CTA and spurred by the district superintendent, residents are engaged in raising funds to build a memorial to her.

Both 2013 and 2014 are marking momentous events in the history of the civil rights movement, including the 50th anniversary of the 1964 March on Washington led by Rev. Martin Luther King, who delivered at the U.S. Capitol his powerful and moving “I Have a Dream” speech. CTA representatives took part in national and local events to recall and honor that historic effort that led to the passage of the crucial federal Civil Rights Act.

For more information about Piper and the memorial efforts, go to The Alice Piper Memorial Facebook Page and the Alice Piper Statute Honoring Education for All on Kickstarter. 

The statue and memorial to Alice Potter, whose courage fully opened the state’s public schools to Native Americans, was formally dedicated on June 2, the 90th anniversary of her the victory in the California Supreme Court.

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