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Welcome! Spring 2014

Jay Michael enjoyed an exemplary career in public administration, rising to become the University of California's chief lobbyist in Sacramento during the turbulent 1960s and 1970s. In that capacity Michael successfully built up an influential statewide grassroots citizen group to support the university's mandate, and perhaps most notably fought hard to protect the mission, independence, and finances of the university at a time when it was under fierce attack from many different corners, including from Governor Ronald Reagan.  

But it was perhaps what Michael didn't do that says the most about the important ethical and political role he played in the university's modern history. Pressured in 1972 by Assembly Ways and Means Committee chairman Willie Brown to admit the unqualified son of a political crony to medical school at UCSF, Michael refused, even in the face of a bald-faced threat by Brown to remove $10 million from the university's budget.

Once Michael and UCSF officials officially denied Brown's request, the chairman followed through on his threat and proposed a $10 million budget cut in the state assembly, which the university could hardly afford. 

All turned out well however when several senators, supported by Governor Reagan, who had heard about Brown's punitive action, successfully pushed to restore the funding in the budget package.  

The episode proved yet another lesson in the hard reality of bare-knuckled politics that Michael grew expert in over his 40 year career, even earning Michael's grudging respect for Brown.  

"He’s the brightest legislator I ever met, for sure," Michael recalls recently in a spirited eight hour oral history about his colorful life and times in Sacramento. "Not only was he bright, he was street smart and shrewd, tough. If I really wanted a big, important job done, I’d go to Willie Brown. He really was tough."

Throughout out this oral history, Michael’s passion and idealism and his unwavering belief in the University of California as an engine for human betterment shines through. Michael explains how he built a grassroots coalition known as the “key contact system”  of University supporters throughout the state, and the day-to-day work lobbyists do in cobbling together political backers and legislative support. He also recounts numerous humorous experiences he had working with many storied leaders in Sacramento from Jesse Unruh and Brown to Reagan.

But perhaps most importantly the Michael oral history stands as a fine example of the finest riches ROHO holds for scholars, journalists, and the general public. In our various research interview series, from University history, and Community History, to Social Movements, Arts and Literature, and Food and Wine, we give interview subjects the time and space to reflect upon and recount the most seminal moments in their lives. We’re proud that Jay Michael is joining our archives.

Neil Henry
Director, Regional Oral History Office


Welcome! Winter 2013

As we wrap up another year at ROHO, I realize how much we have to be thankful for – amazing new oral history projects in the works, and equally amazing new oral historians on our staff in Shanna Farrell and Paul Burnett. Our commitment to maintaining ROHO's international reputation for excellence remains strong, as does our energy level for collecting the finest interviews on record. What's perhaps most remarkable about our work at ROHO is that we are doing all this with scant state funding. Our work is largely funded by government contracts, and foundation and corporate grants. This means that our efforts are largely spent on oral history projects that have already been funded. 

We would much rather have the freedom to choose our projects more on the basis of need and objective merit and less shackled by the pressures of fund raising.

For this reason we are embarking on a major funding drive aimed at eventually endowing each of our 10 project series. Such endowments would allow our historians to plan better and determine with great care who should be interviewed and what topics, trends, and developments should be covered. 

That's our long range goal.

In the shorter term, we will continue to welcome private donations to support special projects and our general expenses. That's the chief reason we are so elated by the recent $100,000 gift bestowed to us by Barclay and Sharon Simpson. This funding will go toward a research and development project aimed at greatly enhancing our digital platform, allowing for robust search tools for researchers, journalists and the general public, and a state-of-the-art online presence for our archives.

All of this naturally leads to my pitch to you: Please give to ROHO this year. Your donation will go directly to supporting our operational needs and maintaining the high level of quality work we have been conducting for the past 60 years. 

Your friendship means the world to all of us. Thank you so much in advance. Here's hoping you enjoy a wonderful holiday season. 

Donate to ROHO here.


Welcome! Fall 2013Image of Omega Boys Club

The Omega Boys Club
Oral History Project

When Joseph Marshall, Jr. started his teaching career in the San Francisco public schools in the early 1980s, he was appalled at what he found – high rates of truancy and drop outs, poor performance of students who did attend, and with the growing crack epidemic, many young people turning to lives of crime, or worst yet, being gunned down in the streets.

So Marshall and an equally concerned fellow teacher, Jack Jacqua, decided to do something about it. They formed an organization in the city’s gritty Bay View Hunter’s Point neighborhood where disadvantaged young people could find safe haven from the streets, and under Marshall’s and Jacqua’s tutelage, refocus their lives toward academic achievement.

It took immense work, and an even greater degree of dedication, but 26 years later their brainchild, the Omega Boys Club, has become a national model as a social service and education program. It has sent more than 200 at-risk young people on to earn college degrees, more than 50 to earn graduate degrees, and many others are today leading productive and fruitful lives in fields ranging from health care to education, long removed from the broken streets of their desperate childhoods.

Today, the Club, operating on an annual budget of $1.5 million from foundation grants and private donors, annually sponsors more than 40 disadvantaged Bay Area high school graduates with college scholarships, and has earned Marshall national recognition as a $500,000 MacArthur “Genius” grant winner.

“Dr. King once said you don’t need a PhD to serve,” Marshall said, summing up his career during an 8-hour oral history of his life and times I conducted last summer. “People ask me why you do what you do, and there’s this song by a group called Take Six that’s called “Nothing But Love.” And that’s pretty much it. Yeah, that’s the reason.” That deep seated belief in the promise of Bay Area at-risk young people has given rise to hundreds of Omega Club alumni like Andre Aikens, who once dealt drugs in inner-city Oakland and today, after earning a Math degree from Morris Brown University in Atlanta, and teaching in the San Francisco public schools, is a top administrator at the Boys Club, leading a new generation to follow his example. There’s also Dr. Janelle Tate, a podiatrist and Tuskgegee University graduate working in Southern California, and Michael Hughes, who perhaps made the biggest leap from a life as a young offender incarcerated in Juvenile Hall, to the Omega Club, to an education degree from Morehouse College. Today, Hughes teaches education at San Francisco State University.

This semester I am teaching a Media Studies undergraduate seminar, “Telling Life Stories: Interviewing for Oral History,” in which my 15 Berkeley students are learning interviewing skills in preparation for conducting oral histories of the remarkable lives of Aikens, Tate, Hughes and other leading Omega alumni. My hope is to pursue two goals – to tell an inspiring story about the club and inner city San Francisco, and produce a teaching vehicle to spur Cal students to know more about oral history.

Call it the best of two worlds.

Neil Henry
Director, Regional Oral History Office


Welcome! Summer 2013

Oral History and News Interviewing: A Study in Contrast

People who know Barclay Simpson are aware of his many accomplishments. An  entrepreneur and innovator, Simpson founded one of the world’s most successful engineering firms from his boyhood Oakland home. The company, Simpson Manufacturing, is a maker of structural connectors used in housing and commercial construction that over the past half century have become the industry standard around the world.

An art dealer and collector, Simpson has donated generously to numerous Bay Area organizations, from UC Berkeley, to the California Shakespeare Theater, to early childhood education programs in public schools in the East Bay and around the country.

What few people know about Simpson however – and which I learned while interviewing him for an oral history, my first for ROHO – was this: That he once turned down Warren Buffett, when the billionaire financier made inquiries about buying Simpson’s company, saying “I’ll never sell. Never!”

That as an elected public official serving on the BART Board of Directors in the 1970s and 1980s he almost singlehandedly was responsible for engineering an agreement that led to the extension of the rail system to San Francisco International Airport.

And that while the 92 year-old philanthropist says his family will be well provided for when he passes, he is leaving by far the majority of his wealth to the foundation he started, the Put Something Back Fund, to continue funding to improve inner city education and opportunity for generations to come.

After more than three decades as a professional journalist, who has conducted innumerable interviews around the world, I found the oral history process a refreshing change. In daily journalism, interviews are typically tightly focused on seeking specific answers to specific questions in order to fill out a news narrative which must be written on a tight deadline.  It’s for this reason that daily journalism is often described as “history’s first rough draft,” a draft which can be marred at times by errors and inaccuracies committed under time pressure.

By contrast, the oral history process is defined by the collection of immense quantities of raw material, which may be reaped in a much more relaxed setting amid largely open-ended questioning, freed from deadline pressure, and leading to novel revelations such as the ones by Simpson that perhaps might not have been shared in a news interview setting.

You also come to know the subject better, and if you’re lucky, to get to like him or her a great deal. Such was the case between me and Simpson, a man whose deep seated inquisitiveness was on display throughout the interview process.

At one point, when I asked him about his religious and spiritual beliefs, he responded by asking me what my faith was. At another point, when I inquired about the origins of his progressive racial attitudes, he suddenly paused, looked up at me, and while the camera rolled, said, “You must have had some interesting racial experiences in your coming of age, Neil, didn’t you”?

To which I could only reply, “Yes, Barc, but I’m the one asking the questions here!”

Neil Henry
Director, Regional Oral History Office


Welcome! Spring 2013

Charting ROHO's Future

Last year at about this time my old friend and journalism school faculty colleague, University Librarian Tom Leonard, asked me to undertake a study of the Regional Oral History Office, its past and present, and issue recommendations for its future at a time of transition.

Thus began my immersion in a topic that was amazingly rich and intellectually dynamic. 

I interviewed numerous leaders of other oral history programs around America, in addition to current and former ROHO staffers, and learned quite quickly how widely admired the Berkeley program was and how deeply beloved it was by people who worked there.

I learned that ROHO, nearing its 60th birthday, was the second oldest oral history program in America, after Columbia, and that its legendary director, Willa Baum, helped establish oral history as a field of research. I listened to many ROHO oral histories, from those compiled of Ansel Adams and Dave Brubeck, to major projects like Kaiser Permanente and Rosie the Riveter.  I also learned how widely used ROHO's archives were, judging by the hundreds of re-publication requests the Bancroft's librarians receive each year from researchers seeking to use ROHO's materials.

My recommendations to Tom and Bancroft Library Director Elaine Tennant were simple: Keep ROHO strong, keep its staffers fulfilled and productive in their work, and find ways to gain greater financial support for its mission.

Now, a year later, as ROHO's Interim Director, I'm proud to work with some of the finest oral historians in the land as we chart the future of this extraordinary office. Recently, our staff held a strategy session to discuss our wish list of oral histories to conduct in coming months and years. Names including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Businessman and philanthropist Bernard Osher, and former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown were mentioned.

New special projects were suggested, including an oral history of the award-winning extra-solar planet hunters UC Berkeley's Astronomy Department;  interviews with the founders and parishioners at San Francisco's legendary Glide Memorial Church; an oral history of political consultants in the Bay Area, such as Clint Reilly, Jack Davis, and Peter Hart; interviews on the subject of the changing media landscape in the Bay Area with Will Hearst, Belva Davis, and Bruce Brugman; and histories of the powerful  California Correctional Peace Officers Association and of Chevron Corp. and its longtime pivotal role in Richmond, to name just a few. 

The ideas keep coming, and with it new energy to pursue them. With more than 4,000 oral histories in ROHO's archives, that number will surely grow in the months and years to come, as we continue a sterling legacy nearly six decades in the making. Thanks for joining us on this remarkable journey. 

Neil Henry
Director, Regional Oral History Office


Welcome! Winter 2012

Big things are happening at ROHO! Building on a nearly sixty-year legacy, we're moving in exciting directions. In the coming weeks and months expect to see

  • Dozens of newly released oral history interviews
  • More streaming audio and video from our interviews
  • Better user interface and easier search tools on our website

And we continue to conduct interviews, host training workshops, and spread the word about oral history at Berkeley. We always welcome feedback about the interviews we conduct and about our efforts to engage with the broader community of alumni, scholars, students, and teachers who look to ROHO for compelling stories about and indepth analysis of our recent past.

This new quarterly newsletter is just one way for you to keep informed about our ongoing work. Please like us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and sign up for our newsletter for more regular updates, news, and special features.

Neil Henry
Director, Regional Oral History Office

 

 

 

         
         

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