One of the most important gestures of history, according to Dr. Maria Elena Caballero-Robb, affectionately known as Dr. Cab, is to render visible what we’ve stopped seeing; to help us attend to the hidden histories, even if it makes us uncomfortable and doesn’t fit with our collective self-image.
Dr. Cab’s Black History Month presentation about Louden Nelson at the All School Meeting on February 15th was such a gesture.
It illuminated the history of one of the first known African Americans in Santa Cruz and the namesake of the Louden Nelson Community Center, providing students and faculty alike a glimpse into the life of a simple man who had a profound impact on the community.
Ironically, as Dr. Cab’s research showed, Louden wasn’t even his name. A slave in North Carolina, he was believed to have been called London by his owner, Mr. Nelson, who had a penchant for European cities. After working at his master’s estate, London migrated west with Mr. Nelson, who promised to let London buy his freedom if he would work a gold claim with him on the American River. Both men were true to their words, and after serving his master’s interest, London bought his freedom and moved to Santa Cruz around 1850, where his name was interpreted as Louden. When he died, he left his estate, worth about $372, to the Santa Cruz School District No. 1.
His final act of generosity secured his memory in the community. However, his life and journey deepened our understanding of his gift, and provided a tangible connection for our community to appreciate the history of African Americans in Santa Cruz.
Dr. Cab presented Louden’s story, a narrative of a local historical figure, as a means, not an end. Learning is about transitioning from one place of knowing to another, a process that takes us out of our comfort zone, she confessed. While we are fortunate to live in a community that embraces equality, she explained, we can’t pretend that our experiences are the same. If we do, it would exclude the experiences that set us apart from one another.
Kirby is committed to helping students recognize, discuss, and appreciate the multiple, non-uniform histories of our community, our nation, and the world.
Please email Dr. Cab if you’d like to see her presentation.