The University of California Berkeley is naming its newest residence hall in honor of David Blackwell. Dr. Blackwell, an accomplished statistician, was the first African American to be grant tenured at the university. He joined the mathematics department at Berkeley in 1954 and stayed on the faculty there until retiring in 1988. Dr. Blackwell died in 2010.
The new residence hall will house 750 undergraduate students and is expected to be ready to open this fall. Chancellor Carol Christ said that Professor Blackwell is “an exemplar of what Berkeley stands for: scholarly excellence of the highest caliber tied to a mission of social justice and inclusion.”
A native of Illinois, in 1935 Blackwell entered the University of Illinois at the age of 16. By 1941 he had earned bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. degrees in mathematics. He then joined the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton but left after one year. Professor Blackwell taught at Southern University and Atlanta University before joining the faculty at Howard University in 1944. At Howard, he became a full professor and chaired the department of mathematics. In 1965 Dr. Blackwell was the first African American to be inducted into the National Academy of Sciences.
The John Jay College of Criminal Justice, part of the City University of New York, has announced the establishment of the New York Slavery Records Index, an online archive of slavery records from 1525 until the end of the Civil War.
The new online archive includes more than 35,000 records. The index includes census records, slave trade transactions, cemetery records, birth certifications, manumissions, ship inventories, newspaper accounts, private narratives, legal documents and many other sources. Include are 1,400 birth certificates of slaves and more than 30,000 records that list the names of slave owners in New York. Also included are more than 500 advertisements seeking the capture and return of enslaved New Yorkers.
Karol V. Mason, President of John Jay College, said that “this vast, public database will serve as an important research tool that will support information-based scholarship on slavery in New York and across the nation. The launch of this index marks a significant contribution to understanding and remembering the country’s history of slavery and advances the college’s mission of educating for justice.”
An elementary school in Utah has traded one Jackson for another in a change that many say was a long time coming.
Jackson Elementary School in Salt Lake City will no longer be named for Andrew Jackson, the seventh U.S. president, whose slave ownership and treatment of Native Americans are often cited in the debate over memorializing historical figures associated with racism.
Instead, the school will honor Mary Jackson, the first black female engineer at nasa whose story, and the stories of others like her at the space agency, was chronicled in Hidden Figures, a 2016 film based on a book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly.
A unanimous vote by the the Salt Lake City school board this week was met with a standing ovation from the crowd in the room, reportsThe Salt Lake Tribune’s Erin Alberty. School employees and parents have discussed changing the elementary’s school name “for years,” Alberty reported, and last year started polling and meeting with parents, alumni, and others. More than 70 percent supported the change. Of the school’s 440 students, 85 percent are students of color, according to the Salt Lake City School District.
Mary Jackson, a native of Hampton, Virginia, worked as a math teacher, a receptionist, and an Army secretary before she arrived at NASA’s Langley Research Center in 1951 as a member of the West Area Computing unit, a segregated division where African American women spent hours doing calculations with pencil and paper, including for the trajectories of the country’s earliest space missions.
Two years in, a NASA engineer picked Jackson to help him work on a wind tunnel that tested flight hardware by blasting it with winds nearly twice the speed of sound. The engineer suggested Jackson train to become an engineer. To do that, Jackson had to take night courses in math and physics from the University of Virginia, which were held at the segregated Hampton High School. Jackson successfully petitioned the city to let her take the classes. She got her promotion to engineer in 1958. After 34 years at the space agency, Jackson retired in 1985. She died in 2005, at the age of 83.
Dr. Charles V. Hamilton, a political scientist, activist and Professor Emeritus at Columbia University best known for his 1967 book co-written with Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), Black Power: ThePolitics of Liberation in America, has established The Drs. Charles V. and Dona C. Hamilton Institute for Research and Civic Involvement at the DuSable Museum of African American History. The DuSable is scheduled to open the Hamilton Institute’s Reading Room on Monday, February 19, 2018 with a special dedication event.
The Hamilton Institute will provide a range of opportunities for visitors to peruse its non-circulating reference collection, including a special collection of rare books, to research the DuSable Museum archives and to attend scholarly lectures and history & policy discussions, many of which will be directed toward youth audiences to inspire their interest and encourage their involvement in topics that affect the African American community. Visitors to the Hamilton Institute’s Reading Room will include educators, authors, photo researchers, independent scholars, journalists, students, historians, community members and others. Visitors will be allowed access to the DuSable Museum Archives, one of the oldest and richest African American archival collections in the nation, which includes manuscripts, books and journals, photographs, slides, and other printed materials.
“I was interested in combining academic studies with political action. My concern was not only to profess but to participate. I see the DuSable Museum as a repository of study of those efforts; and people will come look at them with those eyes; that people will see someone who not just wrote books but participated,” said Dr. Charles V. Hamilton.
Although Dr. Charles V. Hamilton was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, raised on the South Side of Chicago, and educated at Roosevelt University, Loyola University and the University of Chicago. The contribution to establish the Hamilton Research Institute and Reading Room is one that supports the continuation of progressive development for the city of Chicago—a place near and dear to Dr. Hamilton. His donation represents one of the largest individual gifts in the DuSable Museum’s history.
When President Truman integrated the military (1948), Hamilton served for a year. A chronicler of the Civil Rights Movement, he was a young adult at the time of Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and the Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955-56). He lived through the Jim Crow era and witnessed the political transformation that made possible the election of Black officials in the South. Watching the unfolding of civil rights history informed and enriched his scholarship as he created a role for himself as an intellectual amongst activists.
In 1969, Hamilton arrived at Columbia University as a Ford Foundation funded professor in urban political science and became one of the first African Americans to hold an academic chair at an Ivy League university. It was the height of the turbulent 1960s and the nation was reeling from assassinations, demonstrations and riots. Hamilton was at the peak of his fame as the intellectual half of the “Black Power Duo.”
The activist half was Stokely Carmichael (later known as Kwame Ture), a former leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, self-professed Black Nationalist and nascent Pan-Africanist. In a brilliant stroke, Hamilton had teamed up with Carmichael, a folk hero and icon for his generation to write what would be Hamilton’s most famous book, Black Power: ThePolitics of Liberation in America (1967).
“This is a game changer for the DuSable Museum,” said Perri Irmer, President and CEO. “The over-arching mission of this institution is the education of all people through African American history, art and culture. The creation of the Hamilton Institute gives concrete form to this education mission, allowing us to present a commitment to a superior level of scholarly activity and engagement. Now, thanks to Dr. Hamilton, we will have the infrastructure and a vehicle for the engagement of young audiences and visitors of all ages, from around the world, in what I believe will become a center for black thought leadership and intellectual exploration. What better place to do this but Chicago, and in what finer institution than the DuSable Museum of African American History?”
About The Hamilton Research Institute and Reading Room
The Drs. Charles V. and Dona C. Hamilton Institute for Research and Civic Involvement’s Reading Room will be open by appointment only, Tuesday through Saturday to anyone who is at least 14 years of age or in the ninth grade (younger visitors must be accompanied by an adult). The Hamilton Institute staff will provide a range of services to visitors interested in conducting research in the Museum. Reading Room Procedures and Policies will be made available on DuSable’s website, and visitors will be able to make follow-up appointments as related to research needs during the time of their visit.
About The DuSable Museum of African American History
The DuSable Museum of African American History is one of the oldest institutions of its kind in the country. Their mission is to promote understanding and inspire appreciation of the achievements, contributions and experiences of African Americans through exhibits, programs and activities that illustrate African and African American history, culture and art. The DuSable Museum is a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate. For more information on the Museum and its programs, call 773-947-0600 or visit at www.dusablemuseum.
When Jessie Carney Smith arrived at Fisk University in Nashville in 1965, she says many people there did not know about black literature. Smith, the dean of the library, says, “Many scholars were told that blacks had no history.” But African Americans within the library profession have certainly had a long history, with one of the first librarians of color, Edward C. Williams, joining the American Library Association (ALA) in 1896—20 years after the founding of the Association. And today, African Americans comprise roughly 14,250 of the estimated 190,000 librarians in the United States, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
American Libraries spoke with five leading African-American librarians about their careers, the changes they have witnessed over the decades, and the current issues in librarianship. While no two people have the same story, all five interviewees note inclusivity as an important theme. They discuss libraries as safe havens, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the history and future of the Association, as well as their legacies within the profession.
As library professor Alma Dawson says, “Even in this day and age, we still have to tell our own stories.”
When Satia Orange, 75, was growing up in the 1950s, she saw what she described as “the grinding work” of her parents, both librarians.
Her father was A. P. Marshall, an ALA Councilor and director of libraries at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri, and Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti. Orange saw him come “home for dinner and then return to the library until 9 or 10 p.m., doing budgets.”
Orange herself later went on to become director of ALA’s Office for Literacy and Outreach Services, retiring from ALA in 2009. “I was pulled into the profession kicking and screaming,” she jokes.
She began her career in education, teaching in Milwaukee in the mid-1960s, when she received a call one day from Virginia Lacy Jones, dean of Atlanta University’s School of Library Sciences and the first—and at that time only—black library school. Jones offered her a fellowship, promising Orange that she would be able to work with young children, something she enjoyed as part of her prior experience working in the library in the Atlanta school system.
It wasn’t until she started attending conferences that Orange began to view librarianship as her profession. As she participated in midwinter meetings and annual conferences, she recalled what her father had told her years ago: “This was a profession that has a national and international impact.”
Robert Wedgeworth, 80, knows well about the profession’s impact. Wedgeworth became ALA executive director in 1972, at a time of significant financial challenges, with one library publication suggesting that bankruptcy was imminent. But Wedgeworth said he received “some very good advice from friends in the banking industry”; after analyzing the Association’s finances, “they advised me that ALA didn’t have financial problems—it had control problems.”
Wedgeworth balanced ALA’s budget within two years.
During his 12-year tenure, ALA membership increased by more than 25%, and its annual budget more than doubled. The Association also resolved an ongoing building development issue with the construction of Huron Plaza, which has since brought more than $18 million into ALA endowments, and took over operation of National Library Week from the National Book Committee.
Wedgeworth’s forward-thinking approach is also evident in how he applied what he learned from the 1962 Century 21 Exposition in Seattle. He was one of 75 librarians that ALA chose to work at the futuristic Library 21 exhibit, and he was, as he says, “in the first group of librarians to apply computers to library problems” when he became assistant chief acquisitions librarian at Brown University in 1966.
His career in libraries has spanned decades: working as a 14-year-old in libraries over the summer and continuing throughout his four years in college, where a librarian “influenced me to consider librarianship as a career.”
Since leaving ALA, Wedgeworth has served as dean of the School of Library Service at Columbia University in New York and university librarian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and he is currently president of ProLiteracy Worldwide, a nonprofit that promotes adult literacy.
As Russell Long professor and professor emeritus in library and information science at Louisiana State University (LSU), Alma Dawson, 74, was one of the primary forces in the long-term rebuilding of libraries after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. She led Project Recovery, an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant-funded project to educate librarians in south Louisiana to compensate for staff losses after the hurricanes. “It was important to me to make sure that we were connecting what the students were doing in the classroom to everyday experience,” Dawson says. Students recruited for Project Recovery met LSU graduate school requirements and were then admitted into the library program, and all of them went on to professional library positions.
Dawson has also worked to document the history of African Americans in librarianship. “Even in this day and age, we still have to tell our own stories,” she says. “We can stress the importance of figuring out where people are, the kind of positions they have, and the research they’re doing.”
Dawson was, if not recruited to librarianship early, at least welcomed to the library in her youth. “I worked with a librarian in high school who let me help with the library and helped me get scholarships,” she says. “I was the first person in the family to go to college, and it was all on scholarships.”
She didn’t initially work at the library as a student at Grambling (La.) State University, but she was friendly with the librarians there. She also worked in a segregated public school during the Jim Crow era, in the 1960s. “We didn’t really have the resources for students, so we had to raise all the money to buy materials for the library. It was always my goal to find a way to have the resources that the students needed,” she says.
Gladys Smiley Bell
It was Dorothy Porter, curator of Howard University’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center and the major force behind building it into a premiere collection for the study of African-American history, who encouraged Gladys Smiley Bell, 68, to go to library school. “When I was a student, I didn’t know about ALA and the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA), so I try to encourage people to join now,” she says.
She’s also worked to help librarians forge connections through professional activities. Bell cochaired the first Joint Council of Librarians of Color (JCLC) in 2006, the first-ever shared conference among ALA’s five ethnic affiliate associations: BCALA, the American Indian Library Association, the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association, the Chinese American Librarians Association, and Reforma.
With that conference, she says she “was very excited for how we could change the profession in terms of diversity and how we could come together to serve the people,” Bell says. A second JCLC was held in 2012, and a third will take place in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in September.
Bell is now the Peabody Librarian of the William R. and Norma B. Harvey Library at Hampton (Va.) University.
Jessie Carney Smith
Jessie Carney Smith, 87, is not a historian even though some people call her that. “I’m a librarian who has done some historical work,” she says. As dean of the library at Fisk University in Nashville, she has published extensively on African-American history, including three books of biographies of black women and two books of biographies of black men. “I looked for areas that had not been talked about,” Smith says.
After college, she moved to Nashville but couldn’t find a teaching job because of the limited openings in segregated schools. She found a job as a clerk-typist at Fisk University under librarian and writer Arna Bontemps. “I was impressed by his work and the contact he had with other writers and publishers,” Smith says.
She earned a master’s and eventually a PhD in library science, returning to Fisk when Bontemps retired. “When I became familiar with what was then called ‘Negro collections,’ I thought, ‘Why not do some work that would use those materials and promote them to others?’”
And that history is important to having a complete picture. “You may have an interest in one particular topic, and that’s fine,” she says. “But you need to know about the whole of America, not just white but black and Hispanic and other ethnic groups as well.”
Many recent events have been extremely disruptive to communities, ranging from natural disasters to unrest following police shootings or white nationalist rallies. What should a library’s role be in responding to events like these?
Satia Orange: Our Librarian of Congress [Carla Hayden] provided an example of how to respond [as director of Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore]. After the police confrontation, she opened up the library the next day. They were busy because people needed to do what they needed to do but also to understand what was happening in their neighborhood.
In Ferguson, Missouri, the director [of Ferguson Municipal Public Library, Scott Bonner] was brand new, but his training and intuition let him go in and keep the library open and make it the center of the community for information, safety, and resources.
Robert Wedgeworth: Libraries have to be responsive to their constituents, and they need to present themselves as a place where people can find information that helps to explain and understand the current issues affecting their lives. That has been a very important role for libraries over the years, and it will continue to be one. It’s not the social issue itself but that the library can be an active place in helping people to respond to issues as they present themselves.
In the 1960s, librarians were asking what extent they should be active participants in protests and combating certain topics. That continues to be a question raised in the ranks of professionals, and it will always be controversial. Different people will feel different levels of responsibility in dealing with various circumstances, but there will always be a professional role to helping people understand what’s going on in their lives and in their world.
Alma Dawson: First of all, people need information. If they’re just running on emotion, they don’t have the correct info. If we’re talking about Black Lives Matter and other issues of the day, the library has background information that is not just emotional. They have the history right there. When the hurricanes came, people went to the library because that’s where they could connect with family and the community. Librarians can be the right group of people to help.
Gladys Smiley Bell: In my opinion, those protests are political. It’s just appalling to know that things like that are happening today. But libraries can open their doors during times of crisis to provide resources and displays. Schools tend to shut down, but libraries seem to gear up. There is someone out there archiving those events for the future, maybe with the collection of what happens over the years, so that things can be better in the future. Libraries play a role in that because their doors are open to everybody to come and find out for themselves why, who, and what to do about these issues.
Jessie Carney Smith: We have a difficult job to do to help people cope with natural disasters and increasing violence. One has a right to protest, but keep violence out of it. Libraries can help by becoming involved in local dialogue, as we are doing in Nashville. But what works in one community might not work in another. You have to find ways to soften the ugly, tense moments that we have to face. Having grown up in the South, I have seen a lot of ugly and tense moments. We must find a way to deal with the bad as well as the good and let people know that we are dealing with community problems. Continue reading “HISTORY: Pioneering African-American Librarians Share Their Stories”→
Lots of the news from sub-Saharan Africa is about war, famine, poverty or political upheaval. So it’s understandable if many Americans think most Africans who immigrate to the United States are poorly educated and desperate. That’s the impression that President Trump left with his comments to members of Congress opposing admission of immigrants from “s***hole countries” in Africa and elsewhere.
But research tells another story.
While many are refugees, large numbers are beneficiaries of the “diversity visa program” aimed at boosting immigration from underrepresented nations. And on average, African immigrants are better educated that people born in the U.S. or the immigrant population as a whole.
“It’s a population that’s very diverse in its educational, economic and English proficiency profile,” said Jeanne Batalova, a senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute think tank in Washington and co-author of a report last year on sub-Saharan African immigrants in the U.S. “People came for a variety of reasons and at various times.”
Overall, their numbers are small compared with other immigrant groups but have risen significantly in recent years. The U.S. immigrant population from sub-Saharan Africa (49 countries with a total population of more than 1.1 billion) grew from 723,000 to more than 1.7 million between 2010 and 2015, according to a new report by New American Economy, a Washington-based research and advocacy group. Still, they make up just half a percent of the U.S. population.
Drawing from U.S. surveys and Census Bureau data, the report found that the majority come from five countries: Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia and South Africa.
The Pew Research Center reported that African immigrants are most likely to settle in the South or Northeast, and that the largest numbers — at least 100,000 — are found in Texas, New York, California, Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Virginia. Many African refugees have also relocated to or have been resettled in states such as Minnesota and South Dakota.
The Refugee Act of 1980 made it easier for people fleeing war zones to resettle in the U.S., and today there are tens of thousand of refugees from Somalia, Sudan and Congo. About 22% of African immigrants are refugees, according to Andrew Lim, associate director of research at New American Economy.
At the same time, the diversity visa program — also known as the visa lottery — has opened the door to immigrants from more peaceful places. Of the sub-Saharan immigrants who have become legal permanent residents, 17% came through the program, compared with 5% of the total U.S. immigrant population, according to Batalova.
Applicants to the program must have completed the equivalent of a U.S. high school education or have at least two years of recent experience in any number of occupations, including accountant, computer support specialist, orthodontist and dancer. As a result, the influx includes many immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa who are highly skilled professionals.
$1.5 million grant gifted to Michigan State University by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will go towards the cultivation of a database that harbors information about former slaves, MSU Today reported.
The database, which is part of the institution’sEnslaved: The People of the Historic Slave Trade initiative, will encompass data surrounding those who came to America during the Atlantic slave trade; giving individuals the opportunity to explore their ancestry, the news outlet writes. Individuals who utilize the database will also be able to view maps, charts, and graphics about enslaved populations.
The project is being spearheaded by Dean Rehberger, director of Matrix: The Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at MSU, Walter Hawthorne, professor and chair of MSU’s Department of History and Ethan Watrall, who serves as an assistant professor of anthropology at the university.
MSU Today reports that the project will go through several phases and take nearly a year and a half to be completed.
Hawthorne believes that the database will allow scholars to delve deeper into the dark history of slavery. “By linking data compiled by some of the world’s foremost historians, it will allow scholars and the public to learn about individuals’ lives and to draw new, broad conclusions about processes that had an indelible impact on the world,” he said in a statement, according to the source.
Michigan State University has one of the top African history graduate programs in the country and leaders at the institution believe that this new project will further its impact in this space. Institutions who have partnered with MSU for the project include Emory University, Vanderbilt University, Harvard University, the University of Maryland and others.
Slavery has been a common topic at colleges and universities across the country with many institutions coming forward to acknowledge and come to terms with their ties to slavery. Rutgers University recently paid tribute to former slaves by renaming parts of its campus after individuals who built the university from the ground up.