John Herman Blake was born in Mount Vernon, New York on March 15, 1934. After serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, J. Herman Blake earned his B.A. degree in sociology from New York University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California at Berkeley. In 1966, Blake was recruited by Founding Chancellor Dean McHenry to teach sociology at Cowell College at the newly opened University of California, Santa Cruz. He became the first African American on the University of California Santa Cruz faculty and remained at UCSC for eighteen years. Dr. Blake is beloved at UCSC, both as a charismatic, rigorous, and brilliant teacher/mentor and as the visionary leader who founded UCSC’s seventh college, Oakes, and served as its first provost. Oakes College emerged from a larger history of grassroots education in transformational politics in the United States centered in the Citizenship School Movement in the Sea Islands of South Carolina and the Highlander Folk School in Appalachia. See Dr. Leslie Lopez's essay (accessed through the link to the left) which explores this unique history of Oakes College.
After leaving UC Santa Cruz, Blake served as the President of Tougaloo College until 1987; held positions at Swarthmore College; served as the Vice Chancellor at Indiana University; and was the Director of African American Studies at Iowa State University. In 2008, the Medical University of South Carolina appointed Blake as the first Humanities Scholar in Residence. He retired from the Medical University of South Carolina in December of 2014. Throughout his career, Dr. Blake has focused on students of color in higher education, urban militants in the African American community, and social change and community development in rural and urban African American communities. His publications include over fifty full-length contributions and a book, the autobiography of Huey P. Newton, Revolutionary Suicide. He has been awarded six honorary degrees and two presidential medals.
Professor Blake has devoted much of his life to preserving Gullah culture. He was the founding director of the Sea Islands Institute at the University of South Carolina, Beaufort, and is currently Executive Director of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor.
This online exhibit, timed to coincide with "My Unique Journey: Learning Never Ends," Dr. Blake's upcoming talk at the UCSC Library on September 26, 2015 at 11am-12:30 pm features photographs, videos, and other resources about Blake's life, at UCSC and beyond.
Curated by Irene Reti, Oral Historian, Special Collections and Archives. See the Regional History Project's website for the recently published oral history with Dr. J. Herman Blake and much more about UCSC history.