“The study of Black History improved my self-esteem and my own understanding of my place in history,” says Darling. She notes that Dr. Woodson “linked his life-time with the future by laying tracks so others could come along to where he was, and go further.”
At the 8th Annual Black History Month Celebration sponsored by Elmont Online and Highlighting Success, Inc., the prestigious Dr. Carter G. Woodson Award was presented to Dr. Marsha Darling. An educator, historian, researcher and activist, Darling reflects the life of Dr. Woodson, the Father of Black History. Like Woodson, she came from humble origins—the first person in her family to receive a high school diploma. Like Woodson, she cherishes a deep commitment to learning, values and studies Black History, and promotes awareness of the contributions of Blacks to humanity.
A Professor of History and Interdisciplinary Studies, and Director of the African, Black and Caribbean Studies Program at Adelphi University, Darling teaches the history of the Black people dating to African roots, as well as the history of conscience and social justice movements in the United States, the unique burdens of women of color in international development, and significant issues in globalization, especially the interconnectivity among emerging genetic biotechnologies, women’s health and well-being, and vulnerable communities.
Darling has served on the faculties of Georgetown University, the University of Maryland, Wellesley College and Hood College. Her research includes topics of race, gender, social justice, and the “old” and “new” face of Eugenics. She has presented at lectures and conferences extensively, and has authored numerous articles and written three books on constitutional law, focusing on the 14th and 15th Amendments, Voting Rights Act of 1965, and Redistricting, Registering and Voting Systems. In her efforts to help empower civil society advocacy and grassroots stakeholders, she served on several cases as an expert witness; in New York State, she provided testimony in Rodriguez v. Pataki (2003), a case involving 30 plaintiffs who brought redistricting challenges.
Darling has appeared in a documentary series and as a humanities scholar in a number of public broadcasting television programs and independent films. She serves as national coordinator of the Committee on Women, Population and the Environment, an organization that explores issues not yet on the public’s radar screen; has served as president of the Nassau and Suffolk County Chapters of the Association of Black Women in Higher Education, and the Toronto based Association for Women’s Rights in Development. She has worked closely with Unifem, the United National’s Development Fund for Women, and chaired the preparation committee for the 2000 UN meeting, Women 2000: Gender, Equality, Development and Peace for the 21st Century, in Bejing. She has been a panelist, moderator and speaker at venues discussing segregation and inequalities in Long Island Schools, Census 2000 Redistricting, and the 2008 Presidential Election. She also served as a panelist at the 2004 Elmont Online Highlighting Success Roundtable.
Darling’s higher education resume begins with her Associates Degree (with honors) from CUNY College of Staten Island, an interesting start for one who 11 years later earned a Ph.D. from Duke University. “I don’t drop the A.A. from my resume,” she says, “because I want young people to think about building a career, building one’s professional life in stages.”
Darling recalls growing up in Brooklyn as a quiet, reclusive child, and says, “I mostly lived in my head.” Recognizing her child’s personality, her mom bought her a set of anatomical dolls, one male and one female. “They were see-through, and you could take them apart and put them together,” she notes. “They came with a companion book that named all the bones, organs, blood vessels, the entire skeletal system.” She spent hours absorbed in the anatomy of the dolls. In about eighth or ninth grade, she caught the eye of her middle school science teacher when he asked the class what they knew about the body, and she was able to recite all the bones and organs. As a result, she was fast-tracked on a new New York City initiative. Upon graduation, she was not sent to one of the local high schools. Instead, she was given a bus pass, and was enrolled at Bushwick High School.
It wasn’t until years later she realized that she was one of New York’s first busing experiments. Under Mayor John Lindsay, the City quietly launched an integration program, tapping bright, smart, motivated Black and Puerto Rican students and sending them via public transportation to all-white high schools in Brooklyn and Queens. Darling says, “It changed my life.” After high school, while employed as a computer date input worker at Forbes magazine, she was again recruited as a “student of color” to attend the CUNY College Discovery Program on Staten Island.
“I’m probably the only CUNY student ever to take 31 credits in one semester—a full year’s work,” Darling remarks. With opportunity doors continuing to open to her, she was asked to be Valedictorian and to accept a scholarship—the caveat was that she would have to leave the metropolitan area. She enrolled at nearby Vassar College, and later learned that 80% of her scholarship came from The Ford Foundation in its attempt to integrate Ivy League schools.
While an English major at Vassar, a fellow student of Darling’s asked the professor if they would be reading the works of prominent African-American authors Ralph Ellison and Richard Wright. Darling was devastated by the reply—that African-Americans had never contributed anything to literature—and she switched her major to American Studies. Using historical sources, including personal narrative and the federal rights project, she wrote a 125-page senior thesis, titled, Childhood and Slavery. Based on this outstanding work, she received a 5-year Fellowship to Duke University, where she earned a Master’s degree in history and anthropology and her doctorate in history/oral history. She says when she took her first Black History course, “It again changed my life. I saw real people involvement.” She also took courses in Working Class History and Women’s History, where she adds, “I got a first-hand look at the pressures being worked out in society.”
Darling recognizes the need for African-Americans to impart their history to their youth, as other ethnic groups have been able to accomplish. “Intact history helps their young achieve and gain a deeper appreciation for their ancestors,” she notes. “It helps them fashion an image of themselves.”
Graduating high school in 1964, Darling says, “I was certainly being influenced by the world around me.” She devotedly recognizes the efforts of activists like Dr. Martin L. King Jr. and others during the Civil Rights Movement who opened the opportunity doors. She recalls an episode while she was a professor at Wellesley College, when she said, “I am standing on the shoulders of many more people, many of whom eased the doors open and some who put their shoulders against the doors. I was not only standing on the shoulders (of my forbears), I was also standing in their tracks, walking the path they created.” She clearly states, “I was the beneficiary of opportunities, but I also had the tool kit and skill set that took me far.” Darling is aware that her progress is linked to other people who made things happen in America, progressive change. She adds, “That is the lesson I came of age with and what I committed my life to. No matter what I did, I knew I would continue to share that vision. Social justice built itself around me and became a part of me.”
About eight years ago, Darling became interested in how Eugenics, which advocates the use of practices aimed at improving the genetic composition of a population, is influencing current social policy. Often called an applied science or a biosocial movement, Eugenics was popular at the turn of the 20th century, but fell into disfavor after the Nuremburg Trials following Nazi atrocities. In more recent years, development in genetic, genomic and reproductive technologies has raised new questions about the meaning of Eugenics and its ethical and moral status.
Darling began looking at the impact of the “new” Eugenics in America and Europe, and began to wonder where the scientists and social scientists committed to the movement had gone. She is concerned that Eugenics’ “seductive” ideas have crept into the genetic field with the advancement of “designer babies” and “genetically superior human beings,” and she points to incidences of forced sterilization and “reproductive tourism,” a term attached to global shopping-around for desirable physical features or the “renting” of the womb of a healthy Black woman.
Darling has served on the Board of Directors of Erase Racism. With the publication of her books on voting rights and reapportionment, she had knowledge to help with redistricting issues on Long Island. She also advised Executive Director Elaine Gross in the organization’s successful effort to encourage Nassau and Suffolk Counties to pass fair housing legislation.
An active member of Habitat for Humanity’s Women Build Team, the all-female construction team that builds new homes from the concrete slab up, Darling says she taught herself carpentry while in graduate school, so that she could restore and refinish antique furniture. The Women Build Team consists of doctors, professors, lawyers, nurses and moms, and she especially recalls the East Patchogue home they built in one day.
When Darling isn’t teaching, researching or participating in conferences around the world, she likes playing chess, and when time allows, joining drum circles on djembe and ashiko drums.