New faculty: D. Caleb Smith

D. Caleb Smith, a new faculty member at Mount Holyoke College in history, is interested in sharing the narrative of unsung heroes and everyday Black union leaders who were a driving force in labor and civil rights protests.

Caleb Smith was raised in the Deep South and grew up in a working-class community where color lines were clear.

“When we look at what the Black working class looks like now, and looking at the history, we see wage gains when there is biracial cooperation. And we see wages lost when racism takes over,” Smith said. “We begin to understand how labor controls every faction of life, whether religion, race or creed; a job dictates leisure and culture, and [jobs were] at the cornerstone of the civil rights movement.”

Along with the Black church, labor halls served as locations for strategy meetings, conferences and grassroots demonstrations throughout the South. Smith is interested in sharing the narrative of unsung heroes and everyday Black union leaders who were a driving force in labor and civil rights protests.

Smith also looks at the history of fair employment laws that were a result of Black laborers’ and civil rights activists’ struggles, and how those laws were implemented in the workplace. Reviewing legislation like Executive Order 10925 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 allows Smith to identify shortcomings in federal fair employment mandates and the loopholes that might have prevented Blacks from getting better jobs and obtaining upward economic mobility.

Smith’s doctoral dissertation further discussed the intersection of the Black labor and the civil rights movements and the laws that stemmed from it. He is currently expanding his dissertation into a book and predicts the exhaustive researching and writing of the book will take approximately three to four years.

“What I want to do better with the book is show the thread of ‘affirmative action’ from the Kennedy era through the eighties. Affirmative action didn’t have a definition when it was first used; it simply hinted at the intent to produce results for better employment,” Smith said.

“That definition was strengthened under Johnson and other executive orders. But what are the major fallacies of it? How does affirmative action build the Black working class, but also how does affirmative action affect all spectrums — higher education, jobs, generational wealth and opportunity?”

As a firm believer in the intimate aspects of education, Smith was attracted to Mount Holyoke’s small classroom sizes, welcoming atmosphere and beautiful campus. He views the College as a progressive institution that allows its faculty the ability to have autonomy over the courses they teach, which he believes is important for student development.

Smith hopes that his courses offer students further insight into how Black history and history in general play a role in their career path, how they view the world and how they can rethink the social climate of the world.

“One of the biggest reasons I came to Mount Holyoke is that I saw that students were truly serious about learning,” he said. “The college years are very vital to adulthood. So the biggest thing for me is to see students leave my class with confidence, both understanding African American histories and larger broader racial amendments and developing into productive social justice-oriented citizens who aim to push for change themselves.”

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