Exploring Diversity and Access at the University of California, Regional Oral History Office

 Exploring Diversity and Access at the University of California
 African American Faculty and Senior Staff Oral History Project

About This Project -- Oral History Transcripts -- In Memoriam -- Contact Info

This collection of interviews explores the experiences of African American faculty and senior staff at UC Berkeley as part of the broader history of the University of California and its commitment to access and diversity.

This series is grounded in the premise that higher education is one of the primary strategies for gaining social equality--access to employment and income--for historically disadvantaged communities. Moreover, the University, comprised of its students and faculty and administration, with all of its intellectual and financial resources operates as a critical touchstone in processes of systemic social change. Therefore the university functions not simply as an educational institution, but also as a significant site of past and future potential for imagining and crafting opportunity for ethnic and racial groups formerly excluded from higher education. This project recognizes that the University of California, as California's premier public educational institution, plays a significant role in the socio-economic mobility of all of California's residents. The story that we hope will emerge from this project is a story of California--its people and one of its most important public institutions.


Oral History Transcripts

Photo of Bil Banks


William "Bil" Banks
Professor Banks joined UC Berkeley’s faculty in 1971 in what was then called the Afro American Studies Program. The Program, as part of the Third World College, had been created in response to the Third World Strike of 1969 specifically, and generally, the social movements that defined the 1960’s. Banks played a pivotal, and controversial, role in the direction that the Program took as he became its first ladder rank faculty person, then Director of the Program, and guided the program to departmental status in the College of Letters and Science. He was named chair of the department in 1974. In this interview he shares his perspectives on the birth and the evolution of the African American Studies Department, the culture of UC Berkeley as an institution, the social movements of the 1960’s and seventies, and higher education in the United States.

David Blackwell Photo

David Blackwell (1919-2010)
David Blackwell was born in 1919 in Centralia, Illinois. He went on to become a great mathematical thinker and made fundamental contributions to the areas of probability theory, mathematical statistics, set theory and logic, and of course, game theory, to name a few. When Professor Blackwell came to UC Berkeley in 1954 after a decade at Howard University in Washington D.C., he became, we think, the first African American ladder rank faculty person system-wide.

Audio Excerpts:
Working on Statistical Problems at Rand

Chair of Afro-American Studies Committee for Two Weeks in 1969

Reflections on Being Interviewed and on His Work

Related Links:
Buffalo Math Department
The Mathematical Association
National Visionary Leadership Project

Robert H. Bragg Photo

Robert H. Bragg
Professor Robert H. "Pete" Bragg came to UC Berkeley in 1969 from the private sector to serve as professor of Material Science and Mineral Engineering, one of six African American faculty on campus. His major areas of research were x-ray physics and applications to research on materials, electronic properties of carbon materials, and the mechanism of graphitization. This interview follows his trajectory from his early life in Tennessee and Chicago, through military service, graduate school and early professional experiences in the private sector, and finally, on to Berkeley.

Video Excerpts:
The Function of the University and Advice for Young Faculty of Color

Perceptions of Black Faculty on Campus; Anecdote about Harry Morrison

Frontis photo of Troy Duster

Troy Duster
Emeritus Professor of Sociology and Chancellor's Professor Troy Duster came to Berkeley in 1967 from UC Riverside, just on the heels of Berkeley's Free Speech Movement and in advance of the Third World Strike. At Berkeley, Duster played a central role in leading curricular innovation and in building structures to promote and sustain diversity among faculty and students on campus. He consulted closely with University and student leadership to work through major political struggles on campus, including the Third World Strike and the development of the American Cultures requirement, of which he was a Director. He served as Director of the Institute for the Study of Social Change and principal investigator for Berkeley's Diversity Project. Professor Duster's research and writing ranges across the sociology of law, deviance, knowledge, inequality, race, science, and education, and is bound by the common thread of interrogating the normative frames that create and organize taxonomies of information and power. Duster's contributions to the area of biogenetic research are critical in shaping scientific inquiry around race, ethnicity, and genetics.

Professor Duster brings to this oral history both his very human lived experiences combined with his analytic frame as a sociologist and scholar. In this interview Duster situates his own life and trajectory, and that of his generation, against a backdrop of social transformation that reaches from the pre-Civil Rights era to our present moment as we entertain the notion of a post racial society. This interview reveals his acute clarity about the anatomy of structural inequality and institutional discrimination, what these are made of and how they function, and the potential for strategic interventions. Professor Duster fought hard and creatively to increase access for minorities and women at UC Berkeley. Significant themes of this oral history are: a perspective on the University of California's institutional history from the vantage point of someone who worked for change from within the administration, a perspective on how and why affirmative action policies and programs were built and dismantled, gender and racial discrimination and academic culture, and curricular transformation catalyzed by the social movements of the 1960's.

Video Excerpts:
Selections from the African American Faculty and Senior Staff Oral History Project

Image of Harry Edwards from ROHO Oral History Interview

Harry Edwards
Professor Harry Edwards joined UC Berkeley's department of sociology in
1971. He conducted pioneering scholarship in the area of sociology of race
and sport and is also renowned for his involvement in the famous Black
Power salute on the victory podium at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico
City. Edwards has long been a controversial figure at UC Berkeley. In
fact, several of the narrators interviewed in this series point to his
1974 tenure case when discussing curricular transformation and
discrimination in hiring and promotion.

Photo: William Russell Ellis, 1992 Photo courtesy Lew Watts

William Russell Ellis
Professor Ellis joined UC Berkeley's Department of Architecture in 1970, where he taught, researched, and innovated in the intersection of sociology and architecture. He subsequently played a significant role in university administration, serving as Vice Chancellor of Undergraduate Affairs and Faculty Equity Associate, a position for which he emerged temporarily from retirement. Ellis was raised in Los Angeles and educated at Compton High School and UCLA where he gained significant recognition as an athlete before going on to become a scholar and professor of sociology. Ellis emphasized over the course of his interview that his is a California story that reflects this state's social history and diverse population. At Berkeley, he has worked to support and grow a student population that reflects this state's diversity.

In this interview Professor Ellis reflects on UC Berkeley and the life and times that led him here. Significant themes include: a perspective on the University of California's institutional history from the vantage point of someone who worked for change from within the administration, a perspective on how and why affirmative action policies and programs were built and dismantled, gender and racial discrimination and academic culture, and curricular transformation catalyzed by the social movements of the 1960's. Professor Ellis' trajectory reflects that of a generation of African American scholars and professionals. For many in this cohort, athletic excellence and/or military service were the mechanics of mobility that allowed them to circumvent structural racism and gain access to formerly segregated institutions of higher education. Against the changing backdrop of America's racial landscape during the ‘60s and ‘70s, Ellis and his peers leapt far beyond what had been possible for their parents and previous generations and were central in efforts to create mechanisms to increase access for minorities and women who followed them in the academy.

Video Excerpts:
Selections from the African American Faculty and Senior Staff Oral History Project

Photo of Jewelle Taylor Gibbs, courtesy of Julian C.R. Okwu, 1996

Jewelle Taylor Gibbs
Jewelle Taylor Gibbs started as assistant professor at the University of California School of Social Welfare in 1979, became an associate professor in 1983, a full professor in 1986, and was appointed to the endowed chair as Zellerbach Family Fund Professor of Social Policy, Community Change and Practice in 1993, a position she held until her retirement in 2000. During these years Professor Gibbs wrote influential articles and books on a wide range of topics including minority mental health, young black men in America, and the O.J. Simpson and Rodney King cases; she was a visiting scholar in the United States and abroad; and she mentored a generation of students and faculty. She received the highest academic honor at the University of California, the Berkeley Citation, and testified before Congress. Professor Gibbs had returned to graduate school when her sons were in high school; her life has followed a trajectory instructive and inspirational for women who raise their families and occupy careers which impact the public sphere in significant ways. Professor Gibbs' committee work and professional trajectory offers insight into the culture and mechanics of change within the academy.

Audio Excerpt:
On Women at the Men's Faculty Club

Related Links:
Jewelle Taylor Gibb interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 25, 2002

Henrietta Harris
San Jose native Henrietta Harris taught courses in UC Berkeley's Drama department from 1954-1969. A formally trained classical singer and performer, she toured Europe and the United States performing a repertoire of German lieder, art songs, and spirituals. Ultimately she left the world of music for her passion: theatre. In 1964, she founded the Aldridge Players West, a pioneering black theatre ensemble that performed in San Francisco and toured historically black schools in the South.

Video Excerpt:
Henrietta Harris Video Clip

Michele Woods Jones Photo

Michele Woods Jones
Michele Woods Jones came to Berkeley from Monterey, California, as an undergraduate in 1966, lived in coop housing, and as a student saw the Third World Strike unfold around her. Upon graduating from college, Ms. Woods Jones became a counselor in the Educational Opportunity Program, then Director of Student Services, and finally Staff Ombudsperson. Woods Jones interview is unique because of the longevity of her relationship with Berkeleys campus and the different vantage points she brings from her student and professional experiences during an era of radical social transformation.

Video Excerpts:
Reflections on Third World Strike, Third World College, and changing times

Reflections on being a student at Berkeley

Reginald Jones (1931-2005)
Professor Reginald Jones joined UC Berkeley's faculty in 1973 as professor of African American Studies and adjunct professor of Education. His work pushed the educational psychology field, challenging and debunking ideas held particularly with regard to minority and disabled children. He was committed to developing and nurturing future scholars in the field of psychology.

Related Links:

Photo of Dorothy Shack

Dorothy Shack [Available to researchers in The Bancroft Library]
Dorothy Shack, deeply reflective and thoughtful of choice in telling her story, shares about her family background and early years in Atlanta and her education at Talladega College. She tells of her professional training and graduate school in New York City and her career as a child psychologist in Chicago and Berkeley. In her interview, we learn about the life journey she embarked upon with her husband and son, taking her to London, Addis Ababa, Chicago, and Berkeley.

Dorothy is the wife of the late William A. Shack, professor of Anthropology and scholar of the Gurage people in Ethiopia. Professor Shack’s name comes up frequently in other interviews in the African American Faculty and Senior Staff Oral History Project, as one of the early players in diversity and access efforts on campus, and as the first faculty person to occupy the post of Faculty Assistant for Affirmative Action. An interview conducted with William Shack in 1999 by Professor James E. Bowman as part of the University of Chicago African American Alumni History Project, is appended at the end of Dorothy Shack’s oral history.

Mary Perry Smith
Mary Perry Smith is a fiercely committed educator who was an advocate for young people as a local high school teacher, and as co-founder of the Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement program (MESA). Mrs. Perry Smith is also a key figure in East Bay cultural institutions with her longtime involvement with the Oakland Museum of California and the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame. This interview offers some insight into Mrs. Perry Smith's commitment and philosophy with regard to education and community involvement.

Audio Excerpt:
Mary Perry Smith Audio Clip

Norvel Smith Photo

Norvel Smith (1924-2004)
Dr. Norvel Smith lived through several seminal chapters in the City of Oakland's history. Graduating from Berkeley with an EdD in 1956, he was the first African American Vice Chancellor in the UC System, serving as Vice Chancellor-Student Affairs from 1973-1982. He was President of Merritt Community College for five years, from 1968-1973. From 1963 to 1968, he entered the area of community development, as Director of the Oakland Department of Human Resources and Deputy Director of the Western Region Office of Economic Opportunity. Dr. Smith was part of a group of African American men, with its beginnings in the East Bay Democratic Club, who were important actors in East Bay politics in the decades after World War II.

Audio Excerpt:
Men of Tomorrow and East Bay Democratic Club

Related Links:

Photo of Margaret B. Wilkerson

Margaret B. Wilkerson
Margaret Wilkerson came to UC Berkeley in 1968 as a PhD student in the drama department. Upon completing her dissertation on the topic of black theater groups on the West Coast, she began teaching at UC Berkeley. Over the course of thirty years at Berkeley, Wilkerson taught in and chaired both the Dramatic Arts and African American Studies departments and served as the Director of the Center for the Study, Education and Advancement of Women, before retiring and taking up her current post as the Director of the Ford Foundation’s Media, Arts, and Culture Program. This interview contains her reflections on the times in which she came of age, her research—black theater and the life of Lorraine Hansberry, and UC Berkeley, which she had the opportunity to experience from a few different vantage points, as a professor with multiple affiliations and as a student.

Oral Histories in Final Production

William A. Lester -- Professor of Chemistry and Faculty Athletics Representative

Mary Lovelace O'Neal -- Professor of Art Practice

Olly Wilson -- Composer and Professor Emeritus of Music, former Faculty Assistant for Affirmative Action

In Memoriam

These pioneering colleagues passed away before they could be interviewed for this African American Faculty and Senior Staff Oral History Project.

Barbara Christian (1943-2000)
Professor of African American Studies

O'Neil Ray Collins (1931-1989)
Professor of Botany

Harry Morrison (1932-2002)
Professor of Physics

William A. Shack (1923-2000)
Professor of Anthropology

Kenneth Harlan Simmons (1933-2000)
Professor of Architecture

Staten Wentford Webster (1928-1987)
Professor of Education

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