Och Tamale Summer 2021 - University of Redlands

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Giving voice to Black history in the Inland Empire by Laurie McLaughlin

“These are the kinds of projects that tie us to the land and to America.” —Denise Spencer ’12, ’14 (MAM)


akaley Montano ’24 has lived in Redlands all her life, but she says, “I never learned about the Black history here—I never even knew it existed.” That is, until she took a course called Black History of the Inland Empire as part of her spring semester at the University of Redlands. During the course, students interviewed dozens of local Black elders and recorded valuable oral histories to better understand the region’s evolution. “We learned about Black history and helped bring it to life through newspapers, census records, podcasts, maps, and watching and conducting oral histories,” she says. Jennifer Tilton, professor of race and ethnic studies, taught the Black History of the Inland Empire course. “Students tell me when they grow up in Redlands, in school they learn about white orange grove owners,” she says. “They don’t learn about the Black or Mexican families who have been in Redlands since its founding and helped build the city. The only Black history students learn is a really simple story of slavery and Martin Luther King Jr. in the South, but they don’t learn anything about the vibrant Black communities that existed right here.”


An ambitious initiative The ambitious oral history initiative is being relaunched through a partnership between Tilton and the Cal State San Bernardino (CSUSB) John M. Pfau Library, with additional funding and support from the University of California Riverside Public History Program. The library manages the “Bridges That Carried Us Over: Archiving Black History” project, an archive established in 2007 by the Honorable Wilmer Amina Carter, who represented California’s 62nd Assembly District from 2006 to 2012, and her late husband, William Henry “Ratibu” Jacocks. Tilton and her students reinvigorated the archive project with support from civic and religious organizations, such as Congregations Organizing for Prophetic Engagement, NextGen United, Black Voice News, UC Riverside Public History program, and Second Baptist Church. Working with these community partners allowed the class to conduct new interviews to help tell the full range of diverse stories of Black communities in the 20th century. “Our long-term goal is to use the oral histories and other community archives to change the ways we teach history in K-12 schools throughout the Inland Empire,” says Tilton of the project, which continues indefinitely. “If we can figure out how to tell the full and diverse stories of all the people who built the cities we live in right here in the Inland Empire,” she says, “then I think we can figure out how to build fully diverse and inclusive communities today.” Denise Spencer ’12, ’14 (MAM) coordinates training for the oral history project and conducts interviews alongside the students. “When you’re African American in this country, it’s a life struggle to feel a sense of belonging and connection,” she says. “These are the kinds of projects that tie us to the land and to America. This project will create an archive of the Inland Empire’s living history so we can hear the voices of the people for generations to come.” OT The Gay Anns Social Club, a social support group, is shown here in 1954. This photo was taken by Henry Hooks, who shared his oral history with Redlands students in March.