This self-guided tour takes you through the Black history of UC Berkeley's campus

ByKumasi Aaron and Jason Beal Localish logo
Wednesday, February 28, 2024
Discover the Black history of UC Berkeley's campus
Take a tour through UC Berkeley to learn just some of the Black history that exists on its historic campus.

BERKELEY, Calif. -- "He was right here," said Daniella Lake, a senior at UC Berkeley, pointing at Sproul Hall.

"7,000 students," added Gia White, Administrative Director of Global International and Area Studies at UC Berkeley.

When Lake and White look at UC Berkeley's Sproul Hall, they see more than a building. They see history, Black history.

"Martin Luther King, Jr. came here in 1967, in May of 1967," White explained. "He gave an anti-war speech, civil rights and anti-war against the Vietnam War. And he was just tons of people at his feet, 7,000 students and people from the community that came to hear him speak."

"And so, the (Student Union) building was named after him, because a student at the time, Ronald Stevenson in 1985, proposed to get it renamed after MLK," Lake said. "And the thing is, a lot of students on campus don't know that's why it's called the MLK Student Union."

These two wanted to change that. So together, they created the UC Berkeley Self-Guided Black History Tour.

"That's really the goal of the tour," White said. "To sort of reveal some of this really rich history, Black history that's connected to an institution like Berkeley, that a lot of people just don't know about."

The tour leads listeners through 14 stops on campus. Stops include Memorial Stadium Cal Athletics Hall of Fame, in honor of Walter A. Gordon, the first "All American" football player in the history of the University of California in 1918 and the first Black graduate of the Berkeley Law School in 1922.

Also included is the Ida Louise Jackson Graduate house honoring Ida Louise Jackson - the first Black teacher in Oakland Public Schools, first Black woman certified to teach in the state of California, and a recipient of the Berkeley Citation, the university's highest honor.

"Once you know this history, you see the campus in a completely different light, you have a completely different perspective," Lake said. "And especially as a Black student, or any student of color, you just feel like you belong."

In 2023, only 8% of graduate students and 4% of undergraduate students at UC Berkeley identify as Black. That why the Wednesday Wall, a gathering spot for Black people on campus, is a part of the tour.

"It's been going on even before my time," White said. "And we've informally, anecdotally talked about it. And now it's really a stop on the tour and anybody can come by and understand the history of the space."

"I think it's important just to acknowledge the times when we all come together as a collective, as a community," Lake added. "We highlight the individuals on the tour. But to just think about all of us coming all together, especially when on campus, we're a minority. It's really powerful."

The tour is designed to be a starting point to explore Cal's Black history, not a full representation. It took White and Lake a year to put it together. Daniella did most of the recording and editing at the Changemaker Podcast Studio on campus. Gia wrote the scripts based on her years of research. The tour also makes a stop at the Campanile, built in 1914.

"The Campanile, as long as it's been here as a structure, Black students were here before it was built," White explained. " And we just like to make this point that you belong - Black students belong here and have always been here, predating some of these iconic structures."

"Even though they were here so long ago, there's points where I feel like I can relate to them," Lake said. "Sometimes, I'm the only Black girl in my class or in an extracurricular activity. And, you know, I just think about them at those times. They were not only the only Black person in a lot of spaces, but they faced hostility and, you know, some real anti-Black racism, and seeing how they persevered and were just insanely successful. It just gives me a lot of encouragement and really does make me feel like I belong here because if they were here 100 years ago, and accomplish all these things, then I can do it too."

In addition to the self-guided tours, White also offers the UC Berkeley Black History tour in person. To find out more about that and other offerings from Black Lives at Cal, visit here.