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Black Spartans

Black Spartans - Portrait Lucy Turner

Black Spartans (1907-1948)

"Black Spartans (1907-1948)" represents ongoing research in San José State University Special Collections & Archives identifying documentation of Black experiences throughout SJSU history. 

Much of the information we have comes from the Spartan Daily student newspaper and the La Torre yearbooks. With too few exceptions, Black Spartans’ stories are not told in their own words but from the perspectives of their majority white classmates. This is reflected in the language and focus of the articles. We invite you to read critically.

The 19 Black Spartans featured in this exhibit pursued their educational goals while contending with institutionalized racism and other major crises of the 20th century: two World Wars, the influenza pandemic of 1918, and polio. Locally, “the deed to virtually every home in San Jose” included restrictions against Black and Asian residents known as “restrictive covenants” (Spartan Daily, February 16, 1948, page 2). On campus, blackface and minstrel shows were a regular part of student events.

"Black Spartans (1907-1948)" is an invitation to the community to join us in surfacing these stories, ensuring these histories are preserved and presented in a way that honors these students’ lives. Contact us at special.collections@sjsu.edu to participate.

From June 11 to August 1, 2022, select portraits will be on display at the following three San José Public Library Branches: Dr. Roberto Cruz-Alum Rock, Joyce Ellington, and Rose Garden

Exhibit Curators

 

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Carli V. Lowe
Carli V. Lowe
University Archivist
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Kate Steffens
Kate Steffens
Special Collections Librarian
Yeab Kebede

Artist Statement

The "Black Spartans (1907-1948)" exhibition is a homage to Black culture and history at San José State University and the Bay Area at large. Until recently, the significance of Black bodies in Bay Area history (as well as U.S. history) was overlooked. Unless it was associated with the struggles of civil rights leaders, athletes, or celebrity-personas, the story of a graduate from a state school wasn’t valued because we weren’t part of the mainstream culture. As a Black Spartan myself, I was deeply connected to these individuals that started out just like me. I saw a reflection of myself and my community throughout the process of making these 19 mixed media portraits and came to realize how important it is to know your history because it becomes a catalyst for knowing who you are. 

My work explores the intricacy of identity and the role culture, tradition, and history play. These portraits are embodiments of our Black Spartans, they are visual representations of the colorful and captivating lives they led. Through this work, I hope to influence other artists and individuals to take part in researching and finding out the infinite layers of what it means to be Black. Our history is beyond our struggle. We are the blueprint.  

Yeab Kebede'22 Digital Media Arts

Spotlight on Black Spartan Writers

Too much of what we know about Black Spartan experiences was written by others, but these three Black Spartan writers shared their experiences in their own words.

Edward Soulds
Henrietta Harris
Faricita Hall

News Coverage

"New Exhibit Showcases Stories of Black Spartans" | SJSU NewsCenter

"Exhibit celebrates Black alumni" | Spartan Daily

"Black Spartans (1907-1948)" | Society of California Archivists Newsletter, Spring 2022, Number 182 

Related CSU Black History Projects

Thank You to Our Sponsors!

Contributors

Carli V. Lowe & Kate Steffens, Research & Curation

Yeab Kebede, Portraits

En Yu Ma, Graphic Design

Mariah Ramsour, DiNapoli Exhibit Coordinator & Website Design

Lesley Seacrist, Project Management & Promotional Strategy

Diane Malmstrom, Digital Assets

Elena Casteneda, Davier Floyd, Eilene Lueck, & Michael Lara, Research

Library Marketing Team, Marketing and Promotions

Show Your Support & Give Now!

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Support the ongoing growth and care of University Archives projects like this one, by donating to the San José State University Special Collections & Archives Endowment.

Additional Acknowledgements

  • The team of CSU archivists who have been meeting to discuss strategies for surfacing Black history on our campuses
  • Sourisseau Academy for sharing research on Lucy Turner Johnson
  • The many researchers who continue to bring persistent questions about Black history at SJSU
  • Mike Meth, University Library Dean, for working with us to identify partnerships and sponsors
  • Craig S. Simpson, Director, Special Collections & Archives, for his ongoing support and advice throughout this process