Honoring trailblazing campus faculty

07 February 2001


David Blackwell

David Blackwell

Were it not for the commitment of Jerzy Neyman, chair of the math department in 1954, it may have taken even longer for Berkeley to acquire its first black, tenured faculty member.

Neyman was sympathetic to Blackwell's plight, as he himself had beened to escape his native Poland, to escape persecution by the Nazis.

"He had a tremendous amount of empathy for anyone who had been oppressed or mistreated in any way," said Blackwell in a 1986 interview with the Daily Cal. "He always favored the underdog."

Blackwell eventually succeeded Neyman as chair of the department and became a leader in his field during a time marked by intense racial discrimination.

Getting onto the tenure track is not easy for black scholars, said Blackwell. He believed, however, that once a scholar arrives, talent, diligence and personality will overcome most obstacles.

Barbara Christian 1943-2000


Barbara Christian

After graduating from high school at age 15, Christian, who grew up on the island nation of St. Thomas, came to the states to attend Marquette University in Wisconsin.While traveling in the South during the 1950s, she witnessed a kind of racism she hadn't experienced in her native country, with segregated bathrooms, water fountains and restaurants.

From teaching stints on the East Coast, she found her way to Berkeley, landing in the African-American Studies department. Here, she began her series of Berkeley firsts: first black woman to receive a regular faculty appointment, first black woman to receive tenure, and first black woman to chair a department.

Christian's teaching and research focus was black women's literature, and she produced ground-breaking work in this field. Her book "Black Women Novelists: The Development of a Tradition, 1892-1976," helped focus attention on major female writers, such as Toni Morrison and Alice Walker.

"She was a path-breaking scholar," said Percy Hintzen, chair of African American Studies, upon Christian's death on June 25, 2000. "Nobody did more to bring black women writers into academic and popular recognition.

More African-American history month features:
Berkeley's pioneering black students

Lecturer finds traces of the South in the streets of Oakland



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