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Charles Russell Branham

Historian Charles Russell Branham was born on May 25, 1945 in Chicago, Illinois to Charles Etta Halthon and Joseph H. Branham. Branham graduated from Manassas High School in Memphis, Tennessee in 1963. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Rockford College in 1967 and earned his Ph.D. in history in 1980 from The University of Chicago where he was a Ford Foundation Fellow.

Branham has been a professor of history at various colleges in Chicago, including Chicago State University and Roosevelt University. From 1974 through 1985, he taught at The University of Illinois at Chicago where he was awarded the Silver Circle Excellence in Teaching Award. From 1985 through 1991, Branham was an Associate Professor at Northwestern University, and from 1991 through 1997, an Associate Professor at Indiana University Northwest. In 1984, Branham began working as an historian at the DuSable Museum of Afro-American History where he served as Director of Education and is now Senior Historian. Branham is the author of many publications on African American history and politics, including The Transformation of Black Political Leadership in Chicago, 1865 – 1943.

Branham is a member of the Organization of American Historians and the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History. He served on the Board of Directors for The Chicago Metro History Fair, DuSable Museum of African American History, the Illinois Humanities Council and on the Executive Committee for the Chicago Archives of the Blues Tradition. From 1989-1990, he was the Chairman of the United Way of Chicago’s Committee on Race, Ethnic and Religious Discrimination. In addition, Branham has served as a consultant to the Chicago Board of Education for their curriculum development for a Black History study unit. Branham also sat on the Board of Trustees for Rockford College from 1990 to 1992. He won an Emmy Award as the writer, co-producer and host of "The Black Experience," the first nationally televised series on African American History. In 1983, Branham was an expert witness in the PACI case which forced the City of Chicago to give greater political representation to African Americans, and in 1990, his testimony before the Chicago City Council laid the foundation for the city's minority business affirmative action program.

Branham was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on November 3, 2008.

Accession Number

A2008.119

Sex

Male

Interview Date

11/3/2008

Last Name

Branham

Maker Category
Middle Name

Russell

Occupation
Schools

Manassas High School

Lincoln Elementary School

Douglas Elementary School

Rockford University

University of Chicago

First Name

Charles

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

BRA11

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

Tuscany, Italy

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

5/25/1945

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Ice Cream

Short Description

History professor Charles Russell Branham (1945 - ) was the senior historian at the DuSable Museum of Afro-American History and a professor of history at various universities, including Chicago State University, Roosevelt University, the University of Illinois at Chicago, Northwestern University, and Indiana University Northwest.

Employment

Roosevelt University

Chicago State University

University of Illinois at Chicago

Northwestern University

DuSable Museum of African American History

Indiana University

Favorite Color

Blue

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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Charles Russell Branham's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Charles Russell Branham lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Charles Russell Branham describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Charles Russell Branham describes his mother's life in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Charles Russell Branham describes his father's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Charles Russell Branham describes his father's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Charles Russell Branham talks about Olivet Baptist Church in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Charles Russell Branham talks about Olivet Baptist Church in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Charles Russell Branham describes his father

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Charles Russell Branham describes his family

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Charles Russell Branham describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Charles Russell Branham describes his earliest childhood memories

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Charles Russell Branham describes the sights of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Charles Russell Branham recalls his parents' divorce

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Charles Russell Branham describes his home in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Charles Russell Branham remembers his early education

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Charles Russell Branham recalls his influences during high school

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Charles Russell Branham remembers Manassas High School in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Charles Russell Branham recalls his speech at the American Legion Boys State

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Charles Russell Branham recalls his activities at Manassas High School in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Charles Russell Branham recalls working for the Memphis World newspaper

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Charles Russell Branham remembers his teachers at Manassas High School

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Charles Russell Branham describes segregation in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Charles Russell Branham recalls civil rights efforts in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Charles Russell Branham recalls applying to Rockford College in Rockford, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Charles Russell Branham remembers his freshman year at Rockford College

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Charles Russell Branham recalls his experiences of racial discrimination at Rockford College

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Charles Russell Branham recalls developing his confidence at Rockford College

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Charles Russell Branham recalls meeting gubernatorial candidate Ronald Reagan

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Charles Russell Branham recalls studying history at Rockford College

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Charles Russell Branham recalls winning a Ford Foundation fellowship

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Charles Russell Branham recalls working in factories in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Charles Russell Branham recalls his experiences at the University of Chicago

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Charles Russell Branham describes his studies at the University of Chicago

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Charles Russell Branham recalls teaching African American history

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Charles Russell Branham describes his activism in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Charles Russell Branham remembers the Communiversity

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Charles Russell Branham remembers 'The Black Experience,' pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Charles Russell Branham remembers 'The Black Experience,' pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Charles Russell Branham remembers 'The Black Experience,' pt. 3

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Charles Russell Branham recalls completing his dissertation

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Charles Russell Branham remembers being hired at University of Illinois at Chicago

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Charles Russell Branham recalls working on Harold Washington's first mayoral campaign

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Charles Russell Branham recalls testifying about disenfranchisement in Chicago

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Charles Russell Branham reflects upon his interest in black history

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Charles Russell Branham remembers working for the 1984 Democratic National Convention

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Charles Russell Branham recalls designing an exhibit about Harold Washington

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Charles Russell Branham recalls joining the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Charles Russell Branham describes the DuSable Museum of African American History

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Charles Russell Branham describes his publications

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Charles Russell Branham reflects upon his life

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Charles Russell Branham recalls his exhibit on Provident Hospital, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Charles Russell Branham recalls his exhibit on Provident Hospital, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Charles Russell Branham describes his work on 'The Killing Floor'

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Charles Russell Branham recalls testifying about the City of Chicago's affirmative action policy

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Charles Russell Branham describes his concerns for the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Charles Russell Branham reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Charles Russell Branham reflects upon his family and friends

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Charles Russell Branham describes his experiences of police harassment

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Charles Russell Branham recalls being threatened with a gun by a police officer

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Charles Russell Branham describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Charles Russell Branham narrates his photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Charles Russell Branham narrates his photographs, pt. 2

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$7

DAStory

5$9

DATitle
Charles Russell Branham describes segregation in Memphis, Tennessee
Charles Russell Branham recalls being threatened with a gun by a police officer
Transcript
Now I didn't ask you about high school, but did--was there any black history taught in high school in Memphis [Tennessee] (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) No. I'm glad you asked that because, Johnny Johnson [John Johnson, Jr.] was the coach, a wonderful guy, showed a lot of newsreels, because we had to reel--the reel thing. We had one day when they mentioned black history and it was virtually all about Booker T. Washington, and he didn't know anything about Booker T. Washington. He just mentioned him. So there really wasn't any teaching of black history. Black history was displayed in ironic ways. For example, of course, when I grew up you had the black and white signs. There was the Malco Theatre [Memphis, Tennessee], which was the most prominent theater downtown, and African Americans and whites, of course, sat separately and you did not know from the sign where the colored entrance was. What you did was you went to the side, and when you went in, there was a picture of Booker T. Washington and you knew from that picture this is where black people were supposed to go, so we would go up to the balcony. I remember watching 'The Ten Commandments' at the Malco Theatre in the balcony, which probably was better seats than on the main level, but that was your way of knowing African American history. I mean, there were stores in Memphis when I was growing up where African Americans could buy clothing, but they couldn't try it on, and so you learned your African American history through reality. I remember coming back from college [Rockford College; Rockford University, Rockford, Illinois] my freshman year and I had a button, "Goldwater [Barry Goldwater] in 1864," and I remember my mother [Charles Hurd Branham Halthon] ripping that button off of me and screaming at me. I thought I was a wise guy, Barry Goldwater, 1864. I was obviously making fun of what I considered his retrograde ideas. My mother saw it quite differently. You see, my mother remembers when African Americans were run out of Memphis for practicing with whites, like Jimmie Lunceford, who was run out of Memphis. My mother knew that I was only a few years older than Emmett Till, and she remembered Emmett Till and so she was not gonna, she said that she screamed at me. She said, "Those white people will kill you. Take that thing off your--those white people will kill you." And, my mother was being cautious. She was being protective. She was afraid that I would say something or do something or wear a button in front of the wrong white person and that I could be killed and, of course, she had enough practical history to support that. I mean, I remember my first civil rights demonstration in Memphis and not telling my mother. My mother had been very--had made it very clear. "I am a school teacher. If you're arrested in a civil rights demonstration and your name gets in the paper, they can fire me for being your mother." Whether or not they could, I'm sure they had in the past, and so I actually was arrested but never printed or fingerprinted or anything. They just brought us all in and let us all go. Probably because there were too many of us and also probably because we weren't doing anything really but just walking up and down the street.$$What was the issue?$$Well, Memphis was a completely segregated city in 19--in the late 1960s. As I said before, the first whites I met I met in the summer after I graduated from high school [Manassas High School, Memphis, Tennessee]. There was a white lady who actually put together a little group of blacks and whites. We would meet at her home and we read 'Lord of the Flies' [William Golding] and we read a number of other books and we would discuss it and there were four African Americans, all of us going to white schools; one was going to Yale [Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut], he flunked out. He had an eight hundred out of eight hundred--no a sixteen hundred out of sixteen hundred on the SATs and he was very, very smart. He bought a smoking jacket and just got too popular and just didn't do any work, but I don't remember any of us, after having been introduced to the whites at this group, ever speaking to them and I don't remember any of us ever saying anything when the book discussion was going on. We just listened to the white kids talk and it was her attempt to provide some integration, and it didn't work. The white kids were very nice, and we all sat in the same room which was startling. It was in her home, but we didn't interact. We were scared.$And my worst experience actually was when I was doing my TV show ['The Black Experience']. I had been introduced to a young lady by John Tweedle, and I had just been interviewing Lorenzo Dow Turner and Lorenzo Dow Turner was the author of 'Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect,' and he taught at Roosevelt University [Chicago, Illinois], although he'd retired by the time I started teaching at Roosevelt, and he was just the most gracious of people. He lived in Hyde Park [Chicago, Illinois] and so I went to his home and he pulled out this old phonograph with a pine needle, which he stuck in the arm and then he brought out these big metallic records and put them on the turn table, and put the pine needle on the turntable, cranked it and I could hear the actual voices of the people he'd interviewed when he wrote his famous book and so I was on cloud nine, because this was something we could use on the show. We could photograph this and we could show him as a pioneer scholar and I was one to promote African American scholarship, and at the same time we're learning something about Africanisms. We're talking about perhaps the most African people in America and it's a culture as you know that has virtually disappeared and so I was driving down Lake Shore Drive and I ended up at 71st [Street] and I just happened to drop by this girl's apartment building and I knocked on the door and they, I mean I was buzzed in and so I get on the elevator and go up and as I get ready to knock on the door, the door opens, a guy comes out, pushes me against the wall, puts a gun to my head, and says he's going to kill me. Apparently, she had a boyfriend. Apparently she was breaking up with the boyfriend. Apparently he thought I was the cause. He held me there for what seemed like two hours. It was probably more like twenty minutes. He was a police officer. He explained to me that he was going to say that I was breaking in, and that he was going to say he had to shoot me as a robber. I, of course, basically said nothing, except I looked him in the eye, maintained eye contact, which of course, is the worst thing you can do, basically. You're not supposed to maintain eye contact if people actually have a gun to your head, and basically said, "You know, you don't want to do this. You'll never get away with it." And I apparently learned later that you're not supposed to say that. He kept telling me he was going to kill me. After twenty minutes, he decided he wasn't going to kill me. He puts the gun away, gets on an elevator and leaves. Later he tells her mother, he calls her mother and says, "I almost killed a guy." I called several friends of mine because I have a lot of ex-students who are police officers and I talk to them about it, and to a man they said--now remember this is the 1970s--they said, "Leave it alone." I mean, Wilbourne Woods, who was Mayor Washington's [Harold Washington] guard. Wilbourne Woods was a student of mine and we got to be friends because he would always reassure me that he was not an FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] agent when he was in my class, and he said, "Look. These guys will put drugs in your car. They will not let one of their own go down, so just leave it alone." So, I don't know how many people have ever had a gun put to their heads, but I was actually kind of proud of the fact that I didn't panic. We now know a little bit about what you're likely to do, whether or not you can remain calm, when you have a gun put to your head, but I never want that to happen again.$$Yeah, Wilbourne was one of the members of the African American Police League [Afro-American Patrolmen's League; African American Police League], yeah.$$(Nods head) And he told me, he said, "Leave it alone." He says, "I'll talk to the guy but don't turn him in because they'll end up putting drugs in your car."