Picturing Black History

Photographs and stories that changed the world

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Transcript: Poise and Perseverance, an Interview with Sarajaneé Davis

Sarajaneé Davis

Once I knew that I was going to be writing an essay, I was pretty clear upfront that I wanted to write about student activism in the South. That’s just where my knowledge base is. And I’m just always curious. And I know there’s so much more that needs to be uncovered, there are really images featured heavily into my dissertation and kind of graduate work, and so I was like, oh, I’m sure there’s going to be robust images that are going to be available there rather. And I also knew that I wanted to focus on black women’s perspectives. And so I went into my search of the Getty database with that in mind and started by kind of searching “student activism”, “student activism in the late 1960s, and 1970s”. And then I also narrowed my search on to predominantly white campuses, again, just knowing that’s been my background, my primary research area. And when I did that, again, there was a plethora of images that came up, and the three that I chose just leapt out to me, they were not all on the same page by any means. But I found one and that led me to the others, you know, fortunately, it’s a wonderful search engine as well, and so when I spent some time on one and kind of looked in the background information, the Getty search engine pointed me to the other two, as well. And so I already had some preliminary information or background about each of their stories, but working on the essay, I got to delve into a little bit more about their lives and their families before they integrated college campuses that they did, but then also what happened, like, after their experiences on campuses, and just kind of getting to read in their own words of their experiences and what they hoped their impacts or legacy would be. And so I hope that my essay did justice, a little bit of justice, to their stories, how each of their stories fits together to tell us a little bit more about the larger narrative of school desegregation in higher education in the South and in particular, the pivotal role that black women played in that process. And in terms of the title, I think I just drew that pairing like what is visible to me in the images, right? Despite what I imagined and what seems to be or you can kind of fill looking at the pictures are like kind of cold or really stressful environments, each of the women is just holding it together, right? They seem to be very well aware of their circumstances and like aware of themselves as well. And it’s still committed to taking up space, and then perseverance that just speaks to their stories, right, their educational or academic journeys prior to enrolling, how they face the challenges that were put in front of them during their matriculation periods. And then how they carried on after that, despite tremendous discrimination, despite excess pressure even or even expectations for those from their supporters, right? Just boys and perseverance really, I think, captures character traits maybe, or the personalities and kind of behaviors of each of the women described in my story, or my essay, rather.