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J. Herman Blake

Born John Herman Blake on March 15, 1934, Blake grew up in Mount Vernon, New York, as one of seven children raised by his single mother, Lylace E. Blake. Blake’s family lived in poverty, surviving only by welfare. Blake’s mother encouraged each of her children to participate and excel in school; all seven children completed high school; six received bachelor’s degrees; five achieved master’s degrees; and two earned doctorate degrees.

After serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, Blake continued his education with the assistance of the G.I. Bill; he enrolled in New York University in 1955, and received his B.A. degree in sociology in 1960. Blake went on to receive his M.A. degree and his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California at Berkeley. In 1966, Blake, as the Assistant Professor of Sociology, became the first African American on the University of California Santa Cruz faculty. During his eighteen year tenure, Blake also served as the Founding Provost of Oakes College at the University of California Santa Cruz.

After leaving the University of California Santa Cruz, Blake served as the President of Tougaloo College until 1987; held positions at Swarthmore College; served as the Vice Chancellor at Indiana University; and served as the Director of African American Studies at Iowa State University. In 2002, Blake was named Iowa Professor of the Year and received an Honorary Degree from Indiana University.In addition to his career in education, Blake published several projects including Revolutionary Suicide, an autobiography of Huey P. Newton, which was the result of his research on black militants in urban areas.

Blake also researched many other topics; his work made him a leading authority on the Gullah culture. Additionally, Blake served as the Scholar in Residence and Director of the Sea Island Institute at the University of South Carolina, Beaufort, an institution whose primary focus is the study and promotion of Gullah Cultures. In 2008, the Medical University of South Carolina appointed Blake as the first Humanities Scholar in Residence. Blake served as an advisor to the University’s Humanities Committee and to the President and Provost on matters of cultural enrichment.

Accession Number

A2007.036

Sex

Male

Interview Date

1/31/2007

Last Name

Blake

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

Herman

Schools

Northeastern Academy

New York University

University of California, Berkeley

First Name

J.

Birth City, State, Country

Mt. Vernon

HM ID

BLA12

Favorite Season

Spring, Summer

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Central California

Favorite Quote

Keep On Keepin' On.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

South Carolina

Birth Date

3/15/1934

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Charleston

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Sweet Potato Cobbler

Short Description

University president and sociology professor J. Herman Blake (1934 - ) was the president of Tougaloo College, and was a tenured member of the the University of California Santa Cruz faculty for eighteen years. Blake also authored the Huey P. Newton biography, "Revolutionary Suicide," and is a well-respected as a leading authority on Gullah culture.

Employment

University of California Santa Cruz

Tougaloo College

Iowa State University

Favorite Color

Sky Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of J. Herman Blake's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - J. Herman Blake lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - J. Herman Blake describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - J. Herman Blake recalls his childhood home in Mount Vernon, New York

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - J. Herman Blake describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - J. Herman Blake describes his paternal ancestry on Johns Island, South Carolina

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - J. Herman Blake describes his father, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - J. Herman Blake describes his father, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - J. Herman Blake describes his two oldest brothers

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - J. Herman Blake recalls the generosity of Lillian Tinsley

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - J. Herman Blake lists his siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - J. Herman Blake describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - J. Herman Blake recalls living with the family of Thaddeus Wilson, Sr.

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - J. Herman Blake describe his neighborhood in Mount Vernon, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - J. Herman Blake describes his early education in Mount Vernon, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - J. Herman Blake recalls his influences at Harlem Junior Academy in New York City, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - J. Herman Blake recalls his influences at Harlem Junior Academy in New York City, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - J. Herman Blake recalls learning about African American history

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - J. Herman Blake recalls attending New York City's Harlem Junior Academy

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - J. Herman Blake describes his early work experiences

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - J. Herman Blake remembers being drafted to the U.S. Army

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - J. Herman Blake recalls being stationed in France

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - J. Herman Blake recalls his marriage to Bessie Jefferson Blake

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - J. Herman Blake remembers attending New York University

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - J. Herman Blake recalls his graduate studies at the University of California, Berkley

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - J. Herman Blake describes his social activism in California

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - J. Herman Blake recalls testifying at Huey P. Newton's trial

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - J. Herman Blake remembers visiting Huey P. Newton in prison

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - J. Herman Blake recalls coauthoring 'Revolutionary Suicide'

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - J. Herman Blake remembers author Alex Haley

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - J. Herman Blake describes his civil rights activity in the 1960s, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - J. Herman Blake describes his civil rights activity in the 1960s, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - J. Herman Blake remembers his mother's death

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - J. Herman Blake recalls his mother's pride in his accomplishments

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - J. Herman Blake recalls founding Oakes College in Santa Cruz, California, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - J. Herman Blake recalls founding Oakes College in Santa Cruz, California, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - J. Herman Blake recalls designing a course for Oakes College

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - J. Herman Blake describes the significance of his lapel flower

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - J. Herman Blake describes his work with the Emil Schwarzhaut Foundation

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - J. Herman Blake recalls the service projects he implemented in the Sea Islands

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - J. Herman Blake recalls his students' interactions with the community of Daufuskie Island, South Carolina

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - J. Herman Blake describes Pat Conroy's interpretation of Daufuskie Island

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - J. Herman Blake recalls lessons from the residents of Daufuskie Island

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - J. Herman Blake talks about Pat Conroy's book, 'The Water Is Wide'

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - J. Herman Blake describes storyteller Thomas Stafford

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - J. Herman Blake recalls editing the journal of the National Black Law Students Association

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - J. Herman Blake remembers community activist Thomas Barnwell

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - J. Herman Blake describes the Penn Center on St. Helena Island, South Carolina

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - J. Herman Blake recalls founding Oakes College in Santa Cruz, California

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - J. Herman Blake describes the faculty of Oakes College

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - J. Herman Blake describes the students at Oakes College

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - J. Herman Blake remembers Alex Haley's Kinte Library Project

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - J. Herman Blake describes his friendship with Alex Haley

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - J. Herman Blake recalls watching the filming of 'Roots'

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - J. Herman Blake recalls Alex Haley's article about Daufuskie Island

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - J. Herman Blake recalls leaving Oakes College in Santa Cruz, California

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - J. Herman Blake recalls his presidency at Mississippi's Tougaloo College

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - J. Herman Blake describes the financial challenges he faced at Tougaloo College

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - J. Herman Blake describes the students at Tougaloo College

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - J. Herman Blake describes his philosophy of learning

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - J. Herman Blake recalls a conflict with the alumni of Tougaloo College

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - J. Herman Blake recalls an incident of sexual assault at Tougaloo College

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$8

DAStory

4$1

DATitle
J. Herman Blake recalls coauthoring 'Revolutionary Suicide'
J. Herman Blake recalls his presidency at Mississippi's Tougaloo College
Transcript
Well there was a time when his mother made a mistake and she came with two of her daughters, as I recall, on my day because you see, if you visited with Huey [Huey P. Newton], he wasn't in solitary confinement so we each came on a different day. There was one day when you couldn't visit, that's when his lawyers would come and they weren't on the list anyhow so it was keeping him out of solitary confinement. So on my day we're sitting there, Huey and I talking, and here comes Mrs. Newton [Armelia Johnson Newton] along with one or two of her daughters, there's several of us and they came in. So we were all there talking and in the course of the conversation Mrs. Newton got into talking about Gene Marine, who had written a book ['The Black Panthers'] about the Black Panther Party and this, that and the other and Ms. Newton said, "You know, that white man came and talked to me and then he went and lied on me." She did not like the book. She said, "He lied on me," and she's calling "Huerry"; she didn't say Huey, Huey--, "Huerry." She said, "Huerry, Huerry, why don't you write a book?" And Huey said, "I can't write a book, Dr. Blake [HistoryMaker J. Herman Blake] can write a book," and out of that interchange came the notion that Dr. Blake would do a biography of Huey Newton. There would be a, quote, authorized biography. So I picked up on the idea and started organizing my material, contacted Alex Haley for counsel and began collecting data on Huey Newton, mainly from him. We talked about a lot of things and he thought he was going to be in there for seventeen years and he told me a lot of stuff. Well what Huey would do was he would talk and then I'd come out of the prison [California Men's Colony, San Luis Obispo, California] and I had a tape recorder in my car and as soon as I came out, I would go over what he said and put it on the tape recorder. Now our style of working with, we'd talk about something for two hours and I'd review it. And we'd talk about something more and I'd review it and then before I left, I'd go down the list of issues and when I got in the car, on that tape, one of my students would be driving and I'd be talking on that tape, recording that account and that's how we began to do that. And then in August of 1970, as I recall, his conviction was reversed and he was released. It was at that time we decided to change it from an authorized biography to a first person account with me as, you know, Huey Newton as the author and me assisting but I wrote every line, every single word and I put it in the first person. Now let me say that was a task I would never do again because you have to give up your own personality and your own ego and step into somebody else's body and I was never comfortable with that being a scholar, because you're not doing scholarly work, you're essentially just channeling somebody else's material and ideas and Huey and I had some strong disagreements because I felt there had to be some analytical approaches in there but he did not want that but I don't know how you do this without being analytical. He just wanted it to be descriptive and he wanted it to be the kind of thing that would sell, he saw it selling like 'The Autobiography of Malcolm X' [Malcolm X and Alex Haley], things like that. It didn't but, I mean, it's not a good book but it's all right but that's how that came to be and I wrote it ['Revolutionary Suicide,' Huey P. Newton and J. Herman Blake], like I said, but we had real conflicts. I learned things about him and about his father that he had forgotten or didn't know but he didn't want that stuff in there. Oh, it was interesting.$You were going to tell me about your experience at Tougaloo [Tougaloo College, Tougaloo, Mississippi].$$Well, Clark Kerr, the quintessential college president of the 20th century was one of my mentors, and Clark and I use the same phrase when we talk our presidencies. That is, I left my presidency the same way I entered it: fired with enthusiasm. I went to Tougaloo really wanting to focus on building an academic, intellectual community that would provide upward mobility through intellectual achievement for Mississippi students. Tougaloo was on hard times, it had suffered serious declines in enrollment and it was literally trying to buy students to come to Tougaloo. I did not realize and did not understand that many people wanted me to come to Tougaloo from the University of California [University of California, Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, California] because they thought I would attract back to Tougaloo those outstanding, high achieving students who came to Tougaloo when they couldn't go to the University of Mississippi [Oxford, Mississippi]. That's not what I was interested in. My position was, if they can go elsewhere, they should be encouraged to go elsewhere and we should reach down in the well and bring out those who haven't been able to. This college has a historical contribution in that regard and we should reach those people and I was good at it. I had done it at Santa Cruz so that's what I wanted to do at Tougaloo. There were many people who had no interest in that kind of a mission or that kind of a vision. That was number one. I found myself up against serious financial constraints but even more, a cultural dynamic of negative self-perception that was willing to accept mediocrity, and I found that in key administrators, and I found that in the board of trustees. One of the first things I did when I got to Mississippi was I contacted the former, not the former president, the president of Alcorn State [Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College; Alcorn State University, Lorman, Mississippi], Herman Washington [sic. Walter Washington], who was a Tougaloo graduate and Herman Washington told me that my biggest problem at Tougaloo was going to be the believability barrier. People don't believe they can be good. Then I contacted William Winter, the former governor of Mississippi who had done so much to improve education in the state and I recruited him as a mentor with the hope, eventually, of recruiting him to join the board. He came and gave talks to my board at dinner meetings and the first thing William Winter said to me was, "Dr. Blake [HistoryMaker J. Herman Blake], your biggest challenge in Mississippi is the believability barrier," the same thing Herman Washington had said but William Winter was talking a broader context. I did not understand that, I did not understand that. If you have an opportunity to bring the resources and get people to grow, why would they not?