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I am absolutely thrilled that my alma mater The University of Texas at Austin Department of History has selected Dr. Daina Ramey Berry as its new Chair. What a bold move! Dr. Ramey Berry will be the first African American woman in the Department’s 132-year history to serve in this leadership role.  

This is a big step for my alma mater.

A distinguished scholar, experienced administrator and institutional servant, Dr. Daina Ramey Berry is well-prepared and positioned to lead our department.  Her research agenda focuses on the enslaved, and she is author of The Price for Their Pound of Flesh:  The Value of the Enslaved from Womb to Grave in the Building of a Nation.  As her institutional service demonstrates, Dr. Ramey Berry comes with a wealth of credentials and leadership experience that will add value to the direction and growth of the department.  

I find this selection notable, especially considering my experience at UT.  To put it frankly, it was extremely isolating.  

I never saw myself in the department, nor did I ever feel like it saw me.

Even up to the 2000s, the Department failed to embrace the presence of African Americans as students or professionals.  To put this fact in perspective, let’s view the realities.  There was not one African American professor in the Department when I arrived nor when I graduated.  On top of that, Dr. Alton Hornsby was the first African American to receive a doctorate from the Department in 1968.  I was the second in 2000.  In fact, my personal motto to keep me moving forward through the difficult matriculation process was 

If Hornsby can finish in ’68, I can finish in ’98. 

Although I recognize that a lot can and has changed in twenty years, institutional racism and sexism run deep.  Yes, change is inevitable; however, it is extremely difficult to dismantle systemic structures.  Understanding the culture of the University and Department, which perpetuates Whiteness and male dominance in both sophisticated and unsophisticated ways, I commend my Department and alma mater for making such a courageous and “revolutionary” decision.  Dr. Berry’s presence in this roles speaks volumes…

Dr. Ramey Berry begins her term on September 1st.  

Congratulations, Dr. Berry!  I am soooo happy for and proud of you!  I am expecting great leadership from you!  I am sure that the Department and University, if they have not done so already, will recognize the gem that they have in you!

Categories: General Topics

2 comments

  1. Comment by Jacqueline Jones

    Jacqueline Jones Reply August 19, 2020 at 8:11 am

    Ramona,
    Thank you for highlighting UT History’s new Department Chair, Prof. Daina Ramey Berry! Daina is an outstanding scholar, teacher, mentor, administrator, and colleague, and the department is grateful that she has accepted this demanding role.
    Thank you again, and stay well!
    Jackie Jones

  2. Comment by Elizabeth Branch

    Elizabeth Branch Reply August 19, 2020 at 5:55 pm

    Dr. Houston,
    Thank you for this information and I, too, would like to congratulate Dr. D. Ramey Berry!
    I was a part of a study on racism conducted by your University around 1968. Eight of the most known racist towns in East Texas (there was no shortage on the choices, needless to say) were chosen through a grant funded by the Federal Government. A Dr. Rogers Abrhams, I believe was the Lead Investigator. Professional Black and White persons were asked to live in Tyler, Texas for 3 weeks, attend sensitivity sessions, interact on a formal and informal basis, and share our true feelings about racial prejudices, and so on. We talked, cried, screamed, pointed fingers, and engaged in a whole bunch of emotions. But in the final analysis, it was so worth it! I do not have room here to share with you, or the readers, how much this experience “liberated” this country girl from Jacksonville, Texas! It unshackled me from many of my own fears of “white folks” and prejudiced that were self inflicted. I know that there were others, Black and White, whose attitudes, concerns, and fears were impacted in a positive way, as well. I believe Dr. Berry is in a position to replicate this and/or other profound experiments, as well as many others. I love to see our people moved into positions to make a difference…and are bold enough to consider doing so. Again, I wish you much success as both of you, young talented women, move forward.
    Blessings.

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