Black history archive is a boon for teachers
California Heritage Project brings library collections into local K-12 classroom

By Fernando Quintero


Top: a demonstration outside the courthouse on day two of Black Panther leader Huey Newton’s trial, July 16,1968. Below left: Andy, an African American gold miner, stands at his sluice box in Auburn Ravine, Calif., in the early 1850s. Below right: Duke Ellington raps with Black Student Union members at Berkeley High School, 1969.
Images courtesy of the Library’s California Heritage Collection on African Americans in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1963-74.

30 January 2002 | In anticipation of February’s month-long celebration of Black History Month, Carolyn Alexander, librarian at McClymonds High School in West Oakland, is gathering information on the Black Panther Party, the controversial African-American organization born in Oakland in the 1960s.

“Most of our students are curious about the Black Panthers,” says Alexander. Were the Black Panthers violent? Were there other ethnic groups besides African Americans in the movement? Were women active in the organization? These, she says, are common questions of high school seniors.

To help provide answers, Moffitt librarian Lynn Jones is culling a large campus archive for digitized photos of the Panthers. Jones directs the California Heritage Project, which helps history come alive for students through Internet access to its large digitized archive, and which is collaborating with local high school teachers and librarians on a collection of resources for students.

The California Heritage Project has more than 30,000 digital images on state history selected from special collections of the Bancroft Library — ranging from early California exploration, the Gold Rush and the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake to contemporary California history.

Among them are many photos of African Americans in the San Francisco Bay Area — from news photographs of Panther events in the 1960s, to jazz great Duke Ellington rapping with black students at Berkeley High during a 1969 visit, to East Bay African Americans around the turn of the 20th century.

One image that students might find surprising, Jones says, is a group portrait of the “Afro-American Council 13th annual meeting, Oakland, 1907.”

“This middle-to-upper-class image contradicts stereotypes that some hold about Oakland’s early African American community,” she says. “This was an annual meeting of successful businessmen that had gone on for some time.

“There is a lot of interest in African-American history,” said Jones, who along with Bay Area teachers has also created a history web site on the Jim Crow era ( She said the site is an important part of area school lesson plans for Black History Month observances.

The California Heritage Project is one of about a dozen programs, under the umbrella of the campus’s Interactive University Project, that are helping K-12 educators incorporate digital resources in their lesson plans and are bringing the library’s collections directly into classrooms.

“Our goal,” said Jones, “is to put something together that is academically responsible. We want to make high-quality materials available for schoolchildren.”

Alexander, who has worked as a community activist and moved to Oakland in 1980, is interested in sharing African American perspectives on history.

In the case of the Black Panthers, she says, students have heard of the group from folklore, plays, songs and movies.

“But students want to know more. They [the Panthers] are a part of local history, and our kids sometimes have trouble separating fact from folklore. The range of historical viewpoints can also be a bit confusing.”

Consider descriptions of the Panthers in The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, versus the web site

Notes Columbia Encyclopedia: “Black Panthers: U.S. black militant party, founded (1966) in Oakland, Calif., by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. Originally espousing violent revolution as the only means of achieving black liberation, the Black Panthers called on all blacks to arm themselves for the liberation struggle…”

Meanwhile, begins: “The Black Panther Party (BPP) was founded in Oakland, California, by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in October 1966. Newton became the party’s defense minister, and Seale its chairman. The BPP advocated black self-defense and restructuring American society to make it more politically, economically, and socially equal…”

Alexander says she hopes that ongoing collaboration between the Oakland schools and campus librarians will help encourage educators and schoolchildren to look at information critically — especially in the day and age of the World Wide Web.

“They need to understand that anyone can put something up on the Internet and call it fact. Students should not take the information at face value.”


California Heritage Project


Home | Search | Archive | About | Contact | More News

Copyright 2000, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.

Comments? E-mail