Project aims to preserve Black history in Inland Empire – San Bernardino Sun

Civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer once said, “Never to forget where we came from and always praise the bridges that carried us over.”

In 2007, Wilmer Amina Carter and her late husband, William Henry “Ratibu” Jacocks, brought this quote to life through the Bridges that Carried Us Over project. At the core, is a commitment to honoring the history of African American people in the Inland Empire and their personal stories of struggle and triumph through video recorded interviews.

As a native of Westside San Bernardino, this project is a lifeline. After my mother’s death in 2016, I was searching for a sense of connectedness and found it in my childhood memories of my old neighborhood. I wanted to read about my hometown, only to find that there were but brief paragraphs in a book or two. I was stunned. Businesses that I was familiar with were no longer standing. The area I grew up in had completely changed. It seemed as though part of the story of my past was erased and I was at a loss. Serendipitously, as I was researching information for my writing, I met Professor Tilton, who was on a quest to map a more diverse history of the Inland Empire.

Jennifer Tilton, professor of race and ethnic studies at the University of Redlands, has been working on the Bridges that Carried Us Over project for over a year. There are currently eight student interns working across the Cal State San Bernardino, University of Redlands and UC Riverside campuses on the archive. At times it can be a race against time, with many of the interviewees being in their late 80s to late 90s. Since our meeting, I have had the opportunity to talk with Mrs. Amina Carter and have been fortunate enough to also be included in the project and interviews.

Thankfully, the archives include the following people whose stories we were able to record.  Former San Bernardino City Unified School District board of education president, consummate educator and well-loved leader, Margaret Hill. We also recently lost community advocate Jennifer Vaughn-Blakely and photojournalist Henry Hooks. One person that I am particularly grateful to have been able to interview was Lois Carson, who was the first African American elected to the San Bernardino Community College Board of Trustees. Through Carson’s story I could see how her advice influenced decisions my mother made that directly impacted my life.

These interviews include an array of Black people with prestigious careers and positions. Most recently, Tilton and I interviewed Bobby Bivens, current president of the Stockton branch of the NAACP, and former leader of Operation Second Chance. It was a delight when he said he remembered my mother from Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company.  It was an honor to meet Assembly Member and current Commissioner on Aging Cheryl Brown. So far, the Bridges Project has collected over 150 oral stories.

Marc A. Robinson, an assistant professor of history at Cal State San Bernardino, said he was drawn to the project when he saw the 2021 Tilton article. Robinson stated, “as a professor of African American history, Bridges has clear connections to my research and teaching.” Currently there are two student interns from his campus transcribing interviews for the digital archive at the university’s website, Bridges that Carried Us Over.

Throughout the year, to continue the bridge-building process of documenting local Black history, there will be planned “community photo share” events. You are invited to bring photos that can be scanned. As the owner, you would keep the original and get digital copies to share with friends and family. The scanned photos would also be maintained and made available online to the public through Cal State San Bernardino’s Pfau Library. Photos of interest would include historic events like Black history parades, civil rights protests, family gatherings, social clubs, churches and black businesses.

At the time of publication the first event, a celebration and panel discussion will have already taken place, but will be archived on The Bridges That Carried Us Over website and on Facebook at @IEBlackHistory.

You can participate at Black History Month “community photo and story share” events or fill out this form on the The Bridges That Carried Us Over website.

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