Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Tackling Black Women's History

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Tackling Black Women's History

Article excerpt

As a young professor at Purdue University in the early 1970s, Dr. Darlene Clark Hine was confronted with a challenge that would ultimately change her career trajectory and position her as one of the nation's most prominent historians.

At a gathering of the National Council of Negro Women's (NCNW) convention, the late Dr. Dorothy Height urged the Black women in attendance to go back home and find historians to write the history of Black women in their respective states.

Not too long after that convention, two women who were officers in the Indianapolis chapter of NCNW tracked down Hine, who was the lone Black woman historian in Indiana, and asked her to write the history of Black women in the Hoosier State.

"And I thought that was the most peculiar request I ever heard," says Hine.

Hine politely told one of the women that she could not write the history because she was not a Black women's historian. But her response was met with skepticism.

"And she said, 'Let me get this straight. You are a Black woman, aren't you? You are a historian, aren't you? And you mean to tell me you can't put those two things together and write a history of Black women in Indiana?"'

Hine took on the project, and the rest, as they say, is history.

For more than four decades, Hine has become the foremost authority on Black women's history, and she says that Dr. John Hope Franklin was an early inspiration.

"I admired John Hope Franklin. He was like an intellectual God," says Hine, who got a chance to watch the distinguished scholar closely during her undergraduate years at Roosevelt University, when Franklin taught history across town at the University of Chicago.

"Everybody knew that he was this distinguished, outstanding professor and historian. We all knew about From Slavery to Freedom. He was a hero, an intellectual giant. Most people couldn't name anyone else."

Years later, when the two developed a friendship, Franklin would jokingly tell others that the reason why Black women had not been featured prominently in From Slavery to Freedom was because Hine - who was born the same year that the book was published - hadn't done her research and work yet.

"He was very encouraging," says Hine. "He said that each generation has to write its own history. When I needed him, he would always come through and say, 'This history is good. She is doing it right. …

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