UCR Scholars Weigh in on Black History Month

Expertise is available on the origins of the February observance, the African American experience, and health care inequities.

Image of Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. from a panel on Rose Parade float

Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr.

As the nation observes Black History Month in February, members of the UC Riverside faculty are available to comment on the African American experience, how the contributions of African Americans have enriched the United States, and issues facing African Americans.

“Black Women in American Culture and History” — the Black History Month theme this year, selected by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History — recognizes the roles African American women have played in shaping the United States.

These faculty members are available for interviews:


Ralph Crowder, associate professor of ethnic studies
(951) 827-1504

Black History Month began in 1926 as Negro History Week to confront racism and defend black humanity. Its creation by Carter Godwin Woodson, director of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, followed a 35-year period (1890-1925) during which one African American was lynched every two-and-a-half days. “Black History Month should continue to be the reaffirmation of struggle, determination and creativity of blacks against racism and in defense of their humanity,” Crowder says. While it is important to acknowledge achievements of African Americans in every aspect of American life and culture, it also is important to celebrate “the creative beauty and genius of those vast numbers of black folks who have fought the day-to-day struggle of survival,” he says. Crowder is available to talk about the evolution of Black History Month. Among his research interests are late 19th and 20th century African American history, Pan African history and the Black Indian experience.

Erica Edwards, assistant professor of English
(951) 827-1447

Among Edwards’ research interests are black political culture and the role of charisma and masculinity in the construction of black political leaders. Charisma as a form of authority has become an organizing myth of black social organizations, which raises some key questions, she says. For example, is charismatic authority an acceptable means for black leadership? Charisma is important because it determines who gets to speak and who is visible. Edwards is working on a book project titled “Contesting Charisma: Fictions of Political Leadership in Contemporary African American Culture.”

V.P. Franklin, distinguished professor of history and education
(951) 827-1976

While the civil rights movement and its leaders generally are regarded as positive forces, the contributions of an important radical black organization — the Black Panther Party — often are overlooked, Franklin says. The Black Power Era of the 20th century, of which the Panthers were an important part, caused a significant shift in the social, political and cultural consciousness of African Americans. However, the inability of the Black Panther Party to rein in the thug behavior of some members ultimately helped to destroy the group. Similar issues confront the hip hop generation, Franklin says. “Understanding the mistakes made by the Panthers and other black organizations in the Black Power era can serve as a positive message to those in the hip hop generation interested in advancing the movement for black liberation in the 21st century,” he says. Franklin is the author of “Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Biography” (1998) and co-authored “My Soul Is a Witness: A Chronology of the Civil Rights Era, 1954-1965.” He is editor of The Journal of African American History, formerly The Journal of Negro History, now based at UCR. The publication is the leading journal of African American history.

Ruth Jackson, university librarian
(951) 827-3221

 Ruth Jackson led the effort to establish the Tuskegee Airmen Archive in 2005 and to host an annual celebration honoring the airmen and women who were a part of the famed Tuskegee Experience. The graduates of the program, which trained the first African-American pilots between 1943 and 1945, established an enviable record during World War II. To date more than 80 donors have contributed papers, artifacts and historical records documenting the military careers and personal lives of dozens of Tuskegee Airmen. The UCR archive chronicles personal papers, photographs, oral histories, newspaper clippings, books by and about the airmen, military records, and memorabilia. It is the largest archive in a U.S. public university chronicling the history of the Tuskegee Airmen and Women.

Yolanda Moses, professor of anthropology
Associate vice chancellor for diversity, excellence and equity
(951) 827-7741

As president of the American Anthropological Association in the mid-1990s Moses led the effort to develop a traveling exhibit and web site about race, “RACE: Are We So Different?” She is one of eight curators of the project. “The whole idea behind this project is to change the way Americans talk about race,” Moses says. “Our goal is make sure teachers get the information they need to change the way they teach in class, for colleagues and co-workers to be able to talk about race in the workplace, and for parents to be able to talk to their children about a subject that is still taboo in our society.” Among her research interests are the issues of diversity and change in universities and colleges in the United States, India and South Africa.

Carolyn Murray, professor of psychology
(951) 827-5293

Murray has initiated ground-breaking research into the stresses on African-American families and the unequal education of minority children. Her research has focused primarily on the detrimental effects of educational inequities experienced by African Americans — low self-esteem, low expectations by teachers and barriers to achievement — and the manner in which these are reflected in academic achievement. She also has examined the dynamics of parental socialization within the African-American family, paying particular attention to the development of personality. The American Psychological Association recognized a study in which Murray found that the absence of a father from the home tended to have a much more negative effect on the self-esteem of adolescent boys than on that of girls. “Although I am not a historian by training, I have found it instructive to examine these phenomena in the historical context of both pre- and post-slavery,” Murray says.

Vorris Nunley, associate professor of English
(951) 827-1927

Nunley can speak about the tradition of African American hush harbors, spheres such as beauty shops, barbershops and women’s clubs where congregants could speak freely and obtain knowledge useful in everyday life. Hush harbors may occur within different groups and cultures, from NASCAR and churches to the women’s suffrage and civil rights movements. “They produce knowledge in ways that doesn’t occur publicly,” Nunley says. “To overlook hush harbors is to overlook a substantial part of democracy.”

Emma Simmons, associate dean of student affairs
UCR School of Medicine
(951) 827-7663

African Americans have not traditionally shared equally in all of the advances that the medical care system in the U.S. has to offer, Simmons says.  Current efforts to increase the supply of African American physicians remain an important but ongoing challenge. She is a family physician with an interest in improving health equity.  She is available to talk about African American physicians/pioneers who have made a major impact on our medical care. Her area of research has been in the offering and acceptance of HIV screening among underserved populations.

Media Contact

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E-mail: bettye.miller@ucr.edu
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