UC Santa Cruz prof shares honor for book on life under Jim Crow

Joining the ranks of Roots author Alex Haley and Cold Mountain author Charles Frazier, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has won the 2002 Lillian Smith Book Award for his work on a book of oral histories of blacks living in the segregated South.

Paul Ortiz, an assistant professor of community studies at UCSC, will accept the award October 18 in Atlanta, Georgia, with the team of researchers who contributed to Remembering Jim Crow: African Americans Tell about Life in the Segregated South (New York: New Press, 2001). The book was accompanied by two CDs that contain excerpts of original interviews conducted by Ortiz and others, and a major radio documentary about the project that aired on National Public Radio.

"This is a great honor," said Ortiz, who called the collaborative research and writing experience of producing the book an "amazing experience."

"This is a tribute to the African American elders who invited us into their communities, their homes, and their lives," he said. "The power and pervasiveness of racial oppression runs far deeper than water fountains and separate schools, and African Americans' resistance was far broader than what's been taught."

The Lillian Smith Book Award is presented annually to recognize and encourage outstanding writing about the American South. Lillian Smith was the author of the controversial 1944 novel Strange Fruit, a love story about a black woman and a white man. The awards, presented by the Southern Regional Council, honor authors "who, through their writing, carry on Smith's legacy of elucidating the condition of racial and social inequity and proposing a vision of justice and human understanding."

Ortiz worked on the project as a graduate student, conducting dozens of field interviews and serving as coeditor of the book. Sharing the Lillian Smith Book Award with Ortiz are editors William Chafe, Raymond Gavins, Robert Korstad, and Robert Parrish, Jennifer Ritterhouse, Keisha Roberts, and Nicole Waligora-Davis.

Established in 1919, the Southern Regional Council promotes racial justice, democratic rights, and broad civic participation in the southern United States.