Head of the Class: An Oral History of African-American Achievement in Higher Education and Beyond

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Twayne Publishers, 1995 - Education - 199 pages
With the sweeping social changes that occurred after World War II - the civil rights movement and pursuant affirmative-action policies of the late 1960s - African Americans not only began to appear in greater numbers (or to appear for the first time) on college campuses across America but began to shape the character of university life. Before this period of freedom and opportunity, however, any African American who wished a higher education had to fend for him- or herself in an often harsh environment, within a system of routinized prejudice in which the deck was stacked against the black individual even if he or she achieved academic success. In short, high grades and a diploma were no guarantee of professional success.
In this sprightly, forthright, and inspirational collection of interviews with some of the first African Americans to graduate from the University of California at Berkeley, Gabrielle Morris presents a composite portrait of the black student at a primarily white college from 1914 to 1960. The anecdotal, lively quality of these narratives of accomplished individualslegislators, lawyers, pioneering librarians and educators, businessmen, an economist, a chemist, an optometrist, and a pilot - offers a one-to-one experience, like an older friend or relative telling what life was like for a black college student in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. These interviewees confront racial stereotypes through their testimony about their childhoods, early hardships, and experiences as part of a small minority at a major university. They tell about the teachers who influenced their thinking and reveal their intense determination to get an education and advance themselves professionally.
Despite the strides in social justice that resulted from the civil rights movement, many young African Americans in the 1990s still express frustration at the emotional isolation they feel on mostly white campuses. Many of the narrators in this volume were active in the struggles of the early twentieth century that brought about the major social and political changes of the 1960s, and their similar testimonials to isolation - in the sheer physical sense as well as emotionally - should prove insightful and encouraging to young black students of today.

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Overcoming Barriers in Education
NAACP Official and Civil Rights Worker
Library Advocate for Negro History

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About the author (1995)

Gabrielle Morris is a senior editor at the Regional Oral History Office, University of California at Berkeley.

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