Jan 21, 2020

African American life in the West conference to showcase the Valley’s diversity

The Central Valley Institute for Regional and Historical Studies is hosting a scholarly conference examining the history of African-American life in the West this Saturday starting at 10 a.m. in the University Business Center.

Event coordinator Elvia Rodriguez said the idea for the conference was developed by history professor Daniel Cady, Ph.D., who is a scholar on the topic.

“I originally wanted to jar my friends at USC and other well-known institutions to get them to convince their students to come to Fresno State for serious research work,” Cady said. “Historically more stories die than live, so my concern wasn’t to revive the history, but to show the scholarly worth done in the Valley.”

Rodriguez added that she thinks that after having done all the research, Cady wants to get the information he collected out to the public.

“Not a lot of scholarly work has been done on African Americans in the West,” Rodriguez said. “He really wanted to get the buzz going on this aspect of American history.”

The theme, “Beyond the City limits,” Rodriguez said speaks for itself because the main focus in many of the lectures and activities is African American colonies formed in the West.

“The conference will target the history of black townships,” Rodriguez said. “The goal is to show participants how African American communities were self-sufficient and vibrant and lectures will explore black businesses and how these colonies functioned.”

There will be two panel discussions about Black townships featuring speakers like former Los Angeles Times writer and current mass communication and journalism lecturer Mark Arax.

Most of the afternoon will be dedicated to speakers with insider knowledge on the colonies, like Charles Allensworth, who will talk about his great-great-great-uncle’s experience at the colony Allensworth. Steve Ptomey, an interpreter at the Allensworth Park will also discus plans for the centennial this year.

Rodriguez said she’d encourage all Fresno State students and members of the community to attend.

“The things African Americans endured in the West is unknown and overshadowed by the focus of African American history in the South,” Rodriguez said, “We want to inform people about this rich history which took place not far from the Central Valley, and it won’t just be a bunch of boring lecture — it will be interesting and fun.”

Cady said, though, that his personal goal isn’t educating people already in the Valley, but keeping the history alive to showcase the diversity of the Valley.

“Outsiders who don’t live or know anything about the Central Valley assume the ‘Grapes of Wrath’ persona about the Valley’s people and that we’re all related to Okies,” Cady said. “No one knows how diverse the Valley really is and that’s something I want to get across.”

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