Natalie Novoa

  • Fellowship year:2018-2019
  • University: University of California- Berkeley
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: United States
  • Dissertation Title: "A Home Away from Home": Community-based Recreation Centers and Black Community Development in the Bay Area, 1920-1960
  • My dissertation argues that recreation centers played a pivotal role in the black community as sites of racial uplift, political activism, and serving as a conduit to public service agencies in the San Francisco Bay Area. My work links literature in urban history and African American history to demonstrate the unique circumstances that the city landscape presented to African Americans, especially during the Second Great Migration. The project examines the ways in which black-founded and black-directed recreation centers acted as an alternative to the confrontations or humiliations that awaited them at segregated public amusements and accommodations. In addition, this work explores why, how, and with what consequences these black recreation centers contributed to the changing geography of the Bay Area. Creating their own agendas separate from white reformers and city officials, who believed structured recreation was a way to administer control and surveillance over delinquent youth, black leaders viewed these spaces as opportunities to provide community members with the tools to challenge the racism they faced at work, school, and in the streets. The most significant scholarly intervention I propose to make with my dissertation is to center the lived experiences of African Americans: to treat as fully as possible how these recreational institutions operated in their lives. Put another way, this dissertation will use the experiences of African Americans participating in these institutions as a lens into the broader concern of African Americans living in urban spaces.