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John Andrew ("J. A.") Wilds (September, 1845 – May 29, 1921) was founder and editor of the Oakland Sunshine weekly newspaper. He was also the first African American civil servant in Oakland: he was a janitor and night watchman at city hall from 1879 until he retired in 1912. 2

Wilds was born into slavery in North Carolina in 1845. He married Elizabeth Chambers (Wilds) (about 1846 – October 12, 1919) in 1867, and they had 5 children: Horace Maynard Wilds, Joseph Wilds, Ella Mae Wilds (Fisher), James Henry Wilds, and Henrietta C. Wilds (Smith). The Wilds came to California in 1874 and John worked in drayage (shipping) 5 until he was appointed city hall janitor and night watchman in 1879. 6 The family lived at 1008 - 10th Avenue, which had previously been the Brooklyn Colored School.

Interestingly, city hall janitor was an appointed position that city council voted on to approve. 3 Over Wilds' 30+ year career, he served under 17 different mayors.

Wilds was the president of the Oakland Literary and Aid Society, and along with others, was appointed by Mayor Davie to represent Oakland at the Centennial Exposition of Tennessee in 1897. 4 According to Negro Trail Blazers of California, Wilds was an active member of the Fifteenth Street A.M.E. Church, and a member of the Odd Fellows. 5

Links and References

  1. Mayor's Veto Disregarded San Francisco Call July 19, 1895
  2. Oldest City Employee to Retire on Pension San Francisco Call July 17, 1912
  3. Council Names Its Chairman San Francisco Call March 31, 1905
  4. They Will Exhibit San Francisco Call November 21, 1896
  5. Negro Trail Blazers of California by Delilah Beasley
  6. The Most Useful Man Oakland Tribune May 18, 1880
  7. MS189_0779 African American Museum and Library at Oakland