Historical narratives, oral and written, have not always appreciated Rosa Parks’ steady connection to the Black radical tradition. Before her deliberate act of civil disobedience on that cool Thursday in Montgomery, AL on December 1, 1955, Parks’ arc of activism was extensive and extraordinary. Her Garveyite grandfather, Sylvester Edwards, taught Parks to fear no one. In 1932, she and her husband, Raymond Parks, hosted clandestine meetings at their home to map out strategies to defend the Scottsboro Boys. In 1944, after Recy Taylor was kidnapped and brutally raped by six white men in Abbeville, AL, Parks was the NAACP investigator sent to the scene, transcribing Taylor’s account of the brutal attack. She was soon ordered to leave Abbeville by Sheriff Deputy Lewey Corbitt or face incarceration. Over the years, she would investigate numerous violent attacks against Black people, many of them sexual in nature, at the hands of white supremacists. The Parks’ also hosted underground Voters League meetings where they encouraged Blacks in Montgomery to challenge Alabama’s practice of denying Black people the right to vote. After failing the literacy test twice, Parks prevailed in 1945. She vowed to bring legal action against the voter registration board if she failed a third time. However, it was soon after she tried to register to vote a second time in 1943 that she had a run in with James Blake, the same bus driver who would contribute to the popular memory of Parks on that cool Thursday in December 1955. My first encounter with Parks’ story belied her activism, as early in elementary school, I learned she was a “tired old Black lady carrying several bags, resulting in her need to sit down in the first seat she saw on the bus that day.” #Not.Rosa.Parks. She had challenged Blake, an agent of segregation, before, thereby illustrating her engagement in anti-segregationist labor on busses twelve years prior to 1955, and other forms of social justice activism that fed her deep hunger for equality. #The.Real.Rosa.Parks. These are the types of “hidden” histories, stories, we center in Black Studies and we welcome students interested in uncovering what has not been taught, and thinking more critically about what has been taught in educational institutions, as well as within popular circles and the media.
Students considering a major or second major often ask me the following question: “what can I do with a Black Studies degree?” My refrain is always the same, explaining that Black Studies is no different than other majors in that if a student does well, they will have numerous options upon graduating. Law School? Check. Graduate School? Check. Social justice organizations? Check. Non-profit organizations? Check. We have sent a number of students to top universities after graduating with a Black Studies degree: Law schools (Baylor Law School, Chapman School of Law, Harvard Law School, UC Berkeley School of Law, UC Hastings College of Law, and UCLA School of Law; Graduate schools (Brown University, Cal Arts, Columbia University, Cornell University, Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government-Harvard University, NYU, Penn State, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, UCLA, UC San Diego, USC). Black Studies graduates end up working in a number of industries, including the following: Arts and Cultural Production Fields (Dancing, Filmmaking, TV, Producing, Playwright, Novelist, Music), Attorney and Legal Field, Counseling, Environmental Justice Advocacy, Journalism and Media, Non-Profit Organizations, Politics, Primary School Teacher, Professor, Social Justice Organizations, Social Work.
What sets Black Studies apart in the Social Sciences Division in the College of Letters and Science is that we are a smaller department and therefore have the ability to give students the kind of attention that larger departments are less likely to do because of the sheer number of students matriculating in those majors. We also center social justice as well as intellectual rigor in our courses. For example, though the Black Lives Matter Movement began in 2013, Black people have made the case for recognizing black humanity for centuries, going all the way back to Maria Stewart, David Walker, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Annie Julia Cooper, and others, many whose names do not flank historical texts. The connections between the past, present, and future are real. If you are a hardworking student searching for an interesting major with engaged faculty, Black Studies is the home you seek. We publish an undergraduate journal, the BLST Review, highlighting the outstanding work of graduating seniors in our Senior Thesis course. We embrace intersectional justice by examining how race, gender, sexuality, class, etc. shape Black lives. If you are interested in a social science degree within an interdisciplinary context, the Department of Black Studies has a great deal to offer.
Peruse our website. Reach out to me and/or Undergraduate Advisor, Theresa Harkness, for more information about the Black Studies department, major, and/or minor. We look forward to helping you consider one of the most important and best decisions you will make as a student; one that will serve you well during your tenure at UC Santa Barbara, as well as after graduating with a degree in Black Studies from the College of Letters and Science, Social Sciences Division.
Associate Professor and Chair