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SF State-produced documentaries tell stories of the first Black Marines

The Montford Point Marines were 20,000 African Americans trained in the 1940s 

To commemorate Black History Month, a San Francisco State University documentary team will debut four shorts about the first Black servicemembers in the U.S. Marine Corps. Each of the short films will be available on YouTube. 

The films are oral histories with surviving members of the Montford Point Marines, 20,000 African Americans trained between 1942 and 1949 in Jacksonville, North Carolina. The first recruits began one year after U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt outlawed racial discrimination in war industries, allowing Black men and women, although only in a segregated fashion.  

San Francisco State History Professor Trevor Getz, who produced the films along with Cinema Professor Daniel L. Bernardi, emphasizes the lasting legacy of the Montford Point Marines and the lessons that can be learned from them. 

“They fought the Second World War and the war against racism together. And then they went on to serve the country and their communities for decades after,” Getz said. “They want to pass on messages that are of great value to us today. The team of filmmakers led by Bernardi managed to capture those messages authentically. The results are powerful.” 

The Veteran Documentary Corps (VDC), an institute based in SF State’s College of Liberal & Creative Arts, created the films as part of its ongoing mission to tell authentic stories of the American veteran experience. Bernardi, VDC’s director, directed three of them, with Eliciana Nascimiento helming the other. Many other Cinema alumni and students also participated, including Andrés Gallegos, Hannah Anderson, Robert Barbarino, Joshua Cardenas, Jian Giannini and Jesse Sutterley.  

“The series in honor of African American contribution to the ideals of American freedom and civil rights was 95% SFSU: from faculty producers, faculty directors, faculty sound designer, alumni director of photograph, editor and animator to a crew of Cinema graduate and undergraduate students,” said Bernardi, who is a veteran of the Iraq war and a commander in the U.S. Navy Reserves. 

Later this year, Oxford University Press will publish a related nonfiction comic book, “The First Black Marines,” by Getz and SF State History student Robert Willis. 

Watch the documentaries on YouTube

‘Hip Hop America’: SF State History professor assembles major exhibition at Grammy Museum

As co-curator, Felicia Angeja Viator emphasizes women’s contributions to hip-hop 

When a San Francisco State University professor was invited to co-curate an exhibition commemorating the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, she knew women must be at the center. Their presence is unmistakable when entering “Hip Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit” at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. Saweetie’s famously blinged-out fingernails are among the first things that visitors encounter. 

San Francisco State Associate Professor of History Felicia Angeja Viator, the co-curator, placed an emphasis on women’s contributions throughout the exhibit, rather than compartmentalizing women as hip-hop history often does.

“We wanted to weave women throughout every single story,” she said. “As a visitor, you come in and you see women everywhere, and that is a true representation of the history. But it’s also a way to normalize the idea that women were there — and contributed and innovated and were significant. It gives people a sense of where we are now, with women dominating hip-hop.” 

“Hip Hop America” opened Oct. 7 and is on display through Sept. 4, 2024. In addition to Viator, the SF State faculty is also represented by Africana Studies Lecturer Dave “Davey D” Cook, as a member of the exhibition advisory committee. 

Among the artifacts procured by Viator include the personal mixtape collection of late SF State alumna Stephanie “DJ Stef” Ornales, a champion of female DJs regarded as a legend in the Bay Area hip-hop community and beyond. In large part, the content on the 60 cassettes in the exhibition is not available on streaming services, showcasing a way that audiences discovered rap music in the pre-internet era. 

“For me, it’s the crown jewel of the exhibit because it represents what’s so important about hip-hop in terms of the DIY [Do-It-Yourself] culture of it,” said Viator, who also was one of the first female DJs in the Bay Area and wrote a book exploring the societal impact of the gangsta rap subgenre. “DJs and underground MCs would share tapes. I wanted to show how important that is for moving the music around.”  

Every semester in Viator’s “History of Popular Culture” class at SF State, her unit on hip-hop always ignites a lively discussion with a coalescence of varying musical tastes and historical perspectives. 

“When I teach this history, I try to honor the fact that this music is so dynamic and changes so much,” Viator says, “and, as I do in general when I teach history, to give students a sense that history matters.” 

Learn more about SF State’s History Department

Felicia Viator holds a microphone while speaking and wearing a black leather jacket and a 4080 Magazine T-shirt

Associate Professor of History Felicia Angela Viator speaks at the opening gala for “Hip Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit.”

Saweetie poses for a picture next to an encased display of her fingernails at Hip Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit

Saweetie shows off her nails — the 10 on her fingers and the 10 on display.

Study by professor, students finds over 600 LGBTQ+ protests occurred in U.S. in 1965 – 1973

The researchers say their study documents the very civil rights events that politicians seek to ban from school curricula today

In the first comprehensive survey of its kind, a San Francisco State University History professor and three graduate students have discovered that more than 600 LGBTQ+ protests took place in the United States between 1965 and 1973. The researchers say that the study documents the very direct-action events for civil rights — demonstrations, marches, parades, rallies, riots and sit-ins — that some politicians seek to ban from being taught in schools. 

OutHistory and Queer Pasts published the study jointly on March 1. Marc Stein, San Francisco State’s Jamie and Phyllis Pasker Chair in History, led the study with graduate student researchers Dylan Weir, Mario Burrus and Adam Joseph Nichols. Stein says that “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his allies want to cancel, censor and closet” these types of events from U.S. history. 

“We’re seeing a wave of conservative campaigns that target the way we teach history in the United States, especially when it comes to teaching about race, gender and sexual orientation,” Stein said. “While it’s important that we respond, we also need to move forward with the necessary work of reconstructing the way we understand the past. For queer history, it’s not enough to only reference the Stonewall rebellion of 1969; we need to understand the mobilization and radicalization of a large social movement that lasted for years, organized in diverse locations, engaged millions of people and targeted multiple institutions in society.” 

The study identifies 646 direct-action protests, with more than 200,000 participants and nearly 200 arrests. Protests weren’t limited to New York and California: They took place in 20 states and the District of Columbia. The researchers pored over more than 1,800 media sources, going beyond well-known events such as the Stonewall Inn rebellion of 1969 in New York City and the transgender-led Compton’s Cafeteria riot in 1966 in San Francisco.  

In the nine years they reviewed, Stein and the students found San Francisco was the location of the most LGBTQ+ protests with 148, followed by New York City with 142 and Los Angeles with 93. Many smaller events they cite recall forgotten controversies of the era. A 1969 demonstration against restroom arrests at Macy’s in San Francisco lasted 21 days. The same year, the Committee for Homosexual Freedom led a continuous four-month protest against States Steamship Company in the city for firing its only openly gay employee. 

Weir credits a core group of activists with strengthening the LGBTQ+ movement following Stonewall and throughout the 1970s. 

“It is largely thanks to them that we have a society that is more inclusive and accepting today,” Weir (M.A., ’22) said. “This lesson is more relevant today than ever as we see political movements across the country that are trying to roll back the progress that the gay rights movement has made. If these activists could fight for inclusion in the extremely homophobic society of America in the 1960s and 1970s and make real progress, then we can stand up for those rights today.” 

Stein and his students will next document LGBTQ+ protests between 1974 and 1976. 

Learn more about the SF State History Department. 

Campus community pays tribute to women of Iran through music, poetry

Events for Women’s History Month also celebrate Iranian New Year, support Iranian Freedom Movement

San Francisco State University students, faculty and alumni are coming together for several events this month supporting women’s rights in Iran. Admission is free. 

Professor Persis Karim, director of the San Francisco State Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies, organized the events with Music Professor Hafez Modirzadeh. Karim says the events are a tribute to the “brave women, girls and youth of Iran and, more importantly, students, who continue to fight for their rights even in the midst of severe state violence.”  

“While the protest movement in Iran was sparked by the death in custody of Mahsa Jina Amini, a young Kurdish woman, and was initially a call for women’s rights to determine bodily autonomy, the movement has grown in its demands and across all sectors of Iranian society,” said Karim, who holds the Neda Nobari Distinguished Chair. “We have much to learn from these brave young people — who are risking their lives to demand freedom and to push for a vision of the future that is democratic and anti-authoritarian.” 

In celebration of International Women’s Day, renowned Iranian singer Marjan Vahdat and SF State Creative Writing Assistant Professor Tonya M. Foster will team up for a voice and poetry performance. (Foster holds the George and Judy Marcus Endowed Chair in Poetry.) Following, SF State students will present improvised readings with live Persian music accompaniment. This event takes place on Wednesday, March 8, from 1 to 3 p.m. in Knuth Hall. 

On Thursday, March 16, from 7 to 9:30 p.m., “To the People of Iran: Music for a New Year’s Liberation” features live Persian music to celebrate the Iranian New Year and support the people of Iran, in solidarity with the Iranian Freedom Movement. Performers include SF State students Shahin Shahbazi, Mona Shahnavaz, Samandar Deghani and Sirvan Manhoobi and alumni Pezhham Akhavass, Nasim Gorgani, Faraz Minooei and John-Carlos Perea (who is also an associate professor of American Indian Studies at SF State), among other special guests. This recital also takes place in Knuth Hall. 

On March 14 from 4 to 6 p.m., Foster will participate in “Undisciplining the Fields” with anthropologist, filmmaker, poet and educator Abou Farman at The Poetry Center.  

Shahbazi is a graduate student in music composition who plays the tar, a traditional Persian lute instrument. He immigrated to the U.S. from Iran in 2013. 

“The people in Iran need our voice. This is the time we stand with them,” he said. “I always try to be the voice out of Iran because I believe the young generation. They want change, they want freedom, they want to be equal. They deserve to be happy and to live their life.” 

The events are made possible with the support of a 2023 College of Liberal & Creative Arts Extraordinary Ideas grant. Additional support is provided by the Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies, the Poetry Center, George and Judy Marcus Endowed Chair in Poetry and the departments of History and Philosophy. 

Learn more about SF State’s Center for Iranian Diaspora StudiesSchool of Music and George and Judy Marcus Funds for Excellence in the Liberal Arts

Exhibition caps massive project to digitize agricultural labor research material

‘Fields of Struggle: Agricultural Laborers in California, 1939 – 1966’ is based on more than 1,400 items collected by researcher and activist Henry P. Anderson

When San Francisco State University’s Labor Archives and Research Center (LARC) holds its annual program Thursday, Feb. 29, it won’t just celebrate the 38th anniversary of the event series’ launch. It will also mark the culmination of a two-year, labor-intensive effort to digitize the life’s work of one of California’s most notable labor researchers.

The free, open-to-the-public event — to be held 5 – 7 p.m. in room 460 of the J. Paul Leonard Library — will also serve as the official opening of a new exhibition, “Fields of Struggle: Agricultural Laborers in California, 1939 – 1966.” The exhibition showcases material from the Henry P. Anderson Papers, a collection of audio interviews, film footage, photographs, periodicals and more documenting the experiences of California agricultural workers. Anderson was studying for a master’s in Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, in the mid-1950s when he began collecting the material as part of a thesis project on Mexican agricultural workers. Anderson became convinced that the program that allowed the workers to come temporarily to the U.S., known as the Bracero Program, was riddled with abuses, and he used his research to advocate for change. He remained active for years afterward as a labor activist and historian.

Consisting of 1,460 items, the Henry P. Anderson Papers was catalogued and digitized under the direction of San Francisco State Digital Archivist Leah Sylva. Now it’s not just the backbone of the “Fields of Struggle” exhibition. It will be available online to researchers anywhere, anytime.

“Now researchers worldwide can access the correspondence, photographs and interviews remotely without needing to travel to campus,” Sylva said. “Also the selection process curates a sampling of material, presenting objects with high research value without the considerable labor usually required to hunt through archival cartons for relevant items.”

Anderson (pictured, right) passed away in 2016. He had supported LARC with charitable donations and had conversations with staff members about leaving the center his papers. Two years ago, the Anderson Family Trust brought that to fruition with a generous grant covering the cost of organizing and digitizing the papers. The papers were donated by the family and processed in 2019 – 2020 by Archival Processing Team Lead Eva Martinez.

A number of Anderson’s children and grandchildren will be on hand for the “Fields of Struggle” opening event Feb. 29.

“It is tremendously gratifying, rewarding and moving, for myself and my family, to know that my father’s work now is memorialized in digital form and lives on as a resource for labor researchers and historians,” said Dori Anderson Rodriguez, Anderson’s daughter. “My father’s labor research materials, which included recorded interviews, photographs and writings, was to him his most valuable and important legacy. It brings us great pride and gratification to know that his research is now preserved and can be used now and in the future.”

“Fields of Struggle: Agricultural Laborers in California, 1939 – 1966” will be open for class visits throughout 2024. Anyone interested in scheduling a visit should email Sylva.

The Feb. 29 LARC event will feature keynote speaker Mireya Loza, author of “Defiant Braceros: How Migrant Workers Fought for Racial, Sexual and Political Freedom.” Learn more on the J. Paul Leonard Library website.

Henry P. Anderson