During her time at UT Austin, Briana Davis oftentimes felt out of place in her classes, where she was one of the few mixed-race Black women in the room. By the time she reached her senior year, she embarked on an internship that resulted in a three-part blog series on the women of the Delta Xi Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.—UT Austin’s first Black Greek-letter organization. We caught up with the recent College of Liberal Arts grad (B.A. Anthropology/African and African Diaspora Studies ’21) to learn more about her three-part blog series housed within the Black Diaspora Archive.
What sparked your interest in the project?
What fueled my interest in Black lives and Black history was my father’s stories of growing up in the Jim Crow South. I grew up listening to his stories about the Klu Klux Klan terrorizing his neighborhood, and how his family wasn’t able to enter grocery stores. When I had the opportunity to dive into the lives of Black women and make those stories heard, I really kind of jumped at it.
How did your father’s stories influence you?
My father is a wonderful storyteller. He sometimes tells stories over and over again. But just the act of storytelling, hearing people tell their stories, has always been something that has made me curious and that has kept my attention. I think I’m just naturally an inquisitive person when it comes to getting to know people and their struggles, their background, and some of the joyous moments they’ve had in their lives.
What was it like to interview the Alpha Kappa Alpha members?
Oh, I was nervous—I was so nervous! Here, I am but a humble senior; I’m still trying to find my way in the world, still messing up here and there. Then, I find myself sitting in front of these women who are attorneys, have served on the Texas Historical Commission for several years, and have made waves in their respective communities. I knew there was going to be some friction that we needed to talk about, but I wanted to get into the meat of the struggle because uncovering those parts of ourselves and our experiences that are not necessarily pretty can open up conversations that lead to healing.
How did you navigate the heavier subjects that surrounded their time at UT?
Well, I tried to use very open-ended questions, and I did my best to ask questions that allowed them to take it as deep and as far as they wanted to go. Really the main focus was what it was like to be a Black woman at a predominantly white institution (PWI) mainly because, at the time, I was suffering from imposter syndrome. The University of Texas is made up of few Black students. And I’m a mixed-race Black woman, which further marginalized me. So I asked these questions to hopefully bring some comfort to a student like me. I wanted this project to be raw and uncut because I wanted students to see that these women did it, and they made it through in much harsher social conditions—and they thrived.
Why is it so important to document Black history, especially at places like UT that are PWIs?
Oh, it is so important because people are actively working to erase Black history. I mean, from textbooks and curriculum, people are actively working to completely erase the lives that came before us. There’s so much to learn about yourself and others, which is why it’s so important to record those histories and make spaces for people to be heard. Stories about Black people being kept out of certain dorms and areas on campus need to be told—whether or not people are proud of it. It’s the joys, the struggles—and everything combined—that needs to be preserved. So why not capture these stories and make them accessible for all? Because it matters, and Black lives matter. Black history matters.
More about the Black Diaspora Archive
The Black Diaspora Archive (BDA) is a collaborative project supported by LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, Black Studies, UT Libraries and the Office of the President. Established in 2015 and housed at the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, the BDA collects documentary, audiovisual, digital, and artistic works related to the Black Diaspora of the Americas and Caribbean. This encompasses historical publications, contemporary records, personal papers, and rare material produced by and/or about people of African descent—including scholars, professionals, community groups, activists and artists.
Archival images courtesy of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Oral History Project