Every February, UC Berkeley staffer Gia White co-leads the Black History Tour at Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland. And every year, she talks about Ida Louise Jackson, who earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Berkeley and went on to become the first African American teacher in Oakland Public Schools in 1925.
But White had always wanted to know more — about Jackson and her connection to Berkeley, where White has been on staff for more than 30 years. White’s first stop? The Bancroft Library, where she listened to Jackson’s oral history.
“I really wanted to hear her voice and not just read the online transcript,” said White. “That was a wonderful experience and it really gave me the impetus to dig deeper and find more information on all of the trailblazing African American students at Berkeley.”
White, an administrative director for Global International and Area Studies and the Institute of European Studies, read about students she’d never heard of, most of whom graduated from Berkeley in the 1920s.
“UC Berkeley is made up of a tapestry of individuals whose presence has made it a revered institution for higher education around the world,” said White. “At a pivotal time in history, these women faced some extraordinary obstacles. Their perseverance initiated the long road for campus administrative officials to face their biases and evaluate their decision-making processes. Of course, it didn’t happen overnight and there is still work to do, but this is part of their legacy.”
To honor these students and their accomplishments, White decided to write an essay, sharing their names and highlighting their successes at Berkeley and after graduation.
In addition to Jackson, White wrote about 11 other women in the first cohort of African Americans to attend Berkeley, including Vivian Logan Rogers, the first African American woman to graduate from Berkeley in 1909; Louise Alone Thompson Patterson, who went on to become a leader in social justice, fighting Mccarthyism and organizing Angela Davis’ defense fund; and Annie Virginia Stephens Coker, who joined the California Office of Legislative Counsel as junior deputy legislative council in 1939.