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Black Studies Supporters and Alumni Spotlight

 

We are fortunate to have a growing community of alumni and strong supporters of Black Studies. Get to know our illustrious alumni and generous supporters and learn more about why they've chosen to support Black Studies.

 

LAREATHA H. CLAY 

 BBA ’79, MA ’00

From left to right: Lareatha and her mother, Larutha.
From left to right: Lareatha and her mother, Larutha Odom Clay

Black Studies Director for External Relations Shaleiah Fox talked with UT alumna and Black Studies supporter Ms. Clay about her lifelong passion for Texas history and contributing her family’s archive to the Black Diaspora Archive.

Tell us about your experience as a student at UT. What degree(s) do you have?

I started in UT in 1975. Black alumni liken the experience at UT to what it was like going to live with your grandmother’s sister – she’ll provide you shelter and basic needs, but she isn’t going to look out for you and make sure you succeed. Coming from an all-black high school, UT provided her first experience in a predominantly white environment. I joined student groups and really immersed myself in the minority-student culture, joining Innervisions and Delta Xi Chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. I graduated with a BBA in Marketing in 1979 and came back and earned a Master’s in Human Resources Development and Leadership in 2000. These provided two different experiences on campus — as an 18-year-old learning the unspoken rules of an institution, and then as a returning adult.

Preserving history, and specifically Black Texas history, is critical for you. Can you share why?

I grew up in a family that was cognizant of their history and telling of the Shankleville Freedom Colony story (one of over 500 established in Texas after Juneteenth). I learned at an early age from my mother, my grandmother, and the elders in my community about philosophies of Black existence and the value of oral history telling. I attended a predominantly Black high school, which meant I was steeped in the knowledge of African American history and the belief that my history is not a side note. For so many in Texas, Black history isn’t recognized. I can recall attending a presentation by the women's leadership organization where there was no mention of the contributions of Black Texans. The shock moved me to work hard for my mother to become the first Black woman to be inducted in the Daughters of the Republic of Texas in 2005. I and my sister became the second and third Black inductees for this seminal organization in Texas. Integral to what America is, and what Texas is, is the Black American history, and it is important that it is preserved.

The Black Diaspora Archive is home to a small piece of your family history. Talk about what you gave (such as the videotapes and archival materials) and why.

When I first started conversations with Black Studies about my archive, I never thought that UT would be interested in anything to do with African American history. My experience with UT led me to believe that. But because UT has the expertise and capacity, and because Black Studies had the interest in receiving the archive, I decided to entrust UT with the very valuable items that I gave to them.

I gave audio recordings of the residents of Shankleville, videos of surviving children of A.T. and Addie Odom (descendents of the founders of Shankleville), which were a part of an oral history project that was spearheaded by the Shankleville Historic Society, which was organized in 1987. When I first started the oral history project, it was something my mother and I did together. When she passed in 2015, I realized that if something were to happen to me, all of this rich history would be lost. When you’re young and gathering this sort of historical material, you’re not necessarily thinking about what will happen with the history you are collecting, but when people start passing, it becomes more important that what you gather lives on.

Why is supporting Black Studies important to you?

 It gives me the feeling that UT does have an interest in going on with the African American community here in Texas and the Black Diaspora. For us, as alumni and current and future students, it is important that we know that UT is interested in our lives, our history, our experience as people, as Texans, as Americans. I am committed to doing whatever I can do to add to the scholarship, the study, and to make sure that interest is maintained and communicated to the broader community. African American history is American history. Everyone should understand that, know that, study that. Black Studies is a critical component in making sure that happens.