Gold and Blue Beyond Black and White

PI: Gregory Downs (Department of History)

Faculty Members:

Greg Downs, History
Beth Rose Middleton Manning, NAS
Gabriel Jack Chin, Law
Mary Louise Frampton, Law
Graduate Student Members:
Yutong Zhang, History
Wendy Garcia Nava, Law


Many universities have launched major projects to establish the university and surrounding environs’ role in creating white supremacy and distinct categories of belonging and power for non-white peoples. Most famously, this transpires at eastern universities grappling with the universities’ institutional legacies of enslavement, most clearly explored in Craig Steven Wilder’s Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities. More recently, increasing numbers of universities are exploring their connections to the Ku Klux Klan, which, it turns out, had student activists not only in Southern institutions like the University of Virginia and Wesleyan College in Georgia, but also at Harvard, Illinois, and Nebraska. It is also true that even in nominally unsegregated universities, there were often racial distinctions, such as quotas and caps on admission of particular racial, ethnic and religious groups, racially segregated dormitories, or restrictions on participation in particular programs. Finally, at many institutions, including the University of California, Hastings College of the Law and the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, formerly known as Boalt Hall, the troubling conduct of those honored with building names has been challenged.

Thus far, Davis has largely escaped such scrutiny because of the university’s relative youth and the slow movement of these efforts westward and beyond the study of slavery and Southern Jim Crow. However, in the years of the University’s existence, both as a branch of the Berkeley campus and as a separate campus, the state and region experienced racial controversies, such as the anti-Japanese Alien Land Law of 1913 and its enforcement, the rise of racially restrictive covenants, which were widely employed in Davis and other parts of Yolo and Sacramento Counties, and the incarceration of U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry in 1942. There is also the question of how the University or State of California came to own the land the campus now occupies. It would hardly be surprising if Davis administrators, faculty, and students were involved in these issues, on one or both sides.

We seek to:

1) Complete research in campus publications to compile a usable timeline of moments for further investigation and a usable dataset of sources for those flashpoints that illuminate moments in the experience of or exclusion of Latinx people, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Black people, and Native peoples, as well as crucial moments in the history of the campus’ engagement with (and extraction from) the tribal peoples located in this region, building on and acknowledging the significant work done in this area by NAS.

2) Begin a campus inventory that explores the history of the names of different buildings and of the campus experience in different buildings that would lead to a chart of sites on campus where the campus history of race might be incorporated in a campus-wide memorialization project we would propose. The faculty investigators would utilize this work to create, in dialogue with the special issue produced from last year’s conference a set of standards for approaching campus histories in western universities.