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African American Faculty and Senior Staff Oral History Project

About the Project
Interview Transcripts
Audio / Video Excerpts
In Memoriam

About The Project

In 2002, The Bancroft Library’s Regional Oral History Office began interviewing African American faculty who had come to Berkeley before the late 1970s as part of the African American Faculty and Senior Staff Oral History Project. The project was conceived by former Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, Russ Ellis, and then-ROHO Director and Professor of History, Richard Cándida Smith, as part of ROHO’s longstanding commitment to documenting the history of the University of California. Nadine Wilmot was the primary interviewer and project coordinator during her years at ROHO; since 2005, ROHO staff Linda Norton, David Dunham, Martin Meeker, and Neil Henry have worked to bring this series of interviews to completion.

Class outside bios, Photo courtesy of The Bancroft Library Archives
Photo courtesy of The Bancroft Library University Archives

What is important about these stories?
This collection of interviews features African American faculty and senior staff who have made key contributions to the university and to their disciplines. 
 
This group, whose lives have spanned the Civil Rights and the Black Power movements and who numbered among the first to integrate the faculty at historically white, mainstream institutions, represent, in their way(s) the autobiography of a generation. As self-conscious actor/participants, they reflect on the ways that they have occupied and engaged with the different ideologies, political stances, and identities that transverse their lives, as they have crossed the boundaries separating black and white worlds in America. 
 
Central to these interviews are stories of the university and how it has made sense of and incorporated issues of diversity into its environs—its student body, faculty, staff, and curriculum. Some of the key stories that emerge in this set of interviews are the stories of the Third World Strike and Third World College; the creation of the African American Studies Department; the formation of affirmative action policy and its subsequent demise with SP1, SP2 and Proposition 209; and the circumstances surrounding the creation of the American Cultures requirement.

Who was interviewed and how were they selected?
Our cohort included all tenure track faculty who were at U.C. Berkeley prior to 1975. We also interviewed individuals who did not fit these guidelines but were spouses to faculty and/or added significant perspectives to the project.

Key topics explored in these interviews:

  • The history of affirmative action, diversity, and access at UC Berkeley.
  • The culture of the academy, and UC Berkeley in particular, how gender, race, sexuality, and class operate in the academy.
  • Curricular transformation: the Third World Strike of 1969, the birth of African American and Ethnic Studies Departments, and the American Cultures Requirement.
  • Social movements: the Civil Rights Movement, Black Power, and Third World Marxism.
  • History of higher education in the U.S.

Why oral history methodology?
Oral history is a living history. It is both a subjective exchange between two people in a given moment and a historical record in which the broad brush strokes of history are shown to be composed of more nuanced personal stories, identities, and dynamics. Oral history is unique as a methodology because while there is an opening hypothesis, the oral histories themselves suggest the right questions to ask, or the clusters of themes to explore. For this project we chose to use a life history format in order to gain a clear and more nuanced picture of family background and educational trajectory. Life history allows us to place the narrators’ history and journey in a cumulative and reflective dialogue with their current positionality. We use this format to explore the function of memory and narrative, and changes in culture, politics, and identity.

Interviewers:
Richard Cándida Smith
Caroline Crawford
Leah McGarrigle 
Kathryn Stine
Tim Troy
Nadine Wilmot

Advisory Committee:
Robert Allen, African American Studies
Russ Ellis, Jr., Architecture, Former Vice Chancellor of Undergraduate Affairs
Charles Henry, African American Studies
Patricia Hilden, Ethnic Studies
Waldo Martin, History


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