San Jose Valley's black history uncovered by unlikely SJSU scholar





As Black History Month began, a gaggle of schoolchildren traipsing through the fifth floor of San Jose's main library surrounded Iris Jerke and her history exhibit on Santa Clara Valley's African-Americans. None of the kids was black, and neither is Jerke.

The kids looked at early, black-and-white photos of "Negroes" and "colored" folk wearing courtly, wrist-to-neck shirts or blouses and illustrious hats. The children wondered if they were slaves, servants or freemen. And where did they go to school?
"Most of them were farmers, and they were successful farmers," Jerke said in her German-accented English. "You won't find any of this in the textbooks."
Or hardly anywhere else. Which is why the San Jose State University instructor wants to write the first full history of the county's small but fascinating African-American community.

That won't be easy. Because historians paid little heed to the valley's first blacks, Jerke plans to work backward by picking through the memories and family albums of their descendants and more recent arrivals. She's hoping they'll come see the exhibit and contact her.

"What grabs me about this project is that it fills the gaps in the history of African-American San Jose," said Oscar Battle Jr., a health education coordinator at the university and co-founder of the African-American Faculty and Staff Association....


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