Dorothy Salem

Photo Courtesy of Dorothy salem


Feb. 26, 2018

Dorothy Salem:"Black history is where my soul is"

Try to picture the life of an individual whose life’s passion is the education of black history and activism within the black community.

Perhaps you imagined an African-American man who grew up in a low-income household but pulled himself up by his bootstraps and strives to teach others to do the same.

Maybe you thought of a strong independent African-American woman who strives to educate students about the history of African-Americans in America.

Whatever you envisioned, it’s unlikely you pictured someone quite like retired history professor Dorothy Salem, Ph.D., a white woman who has made it her life’s goal to shine light on all aspects of African-American history.

“It’s a calling,” the 72-year-old retired history professor explained.

Salem, who has taught countless black history and woman’s studies courses at Cleveland State University and Cuyahoga Community College continues to¬† conduct research and write books well into her retirement.

The novelty of her interest in black history as a white woman is not something that is lost on her.

“When I walk into a classroom you think you’re in the wrong classroom,” she said.

Her passion for black history as a white woman is something Salem said has raised eyebrows her “whole freaking life,” but it is a niche she found at Cleveland State when she was a college student herself.

“I was a student in college during the ‘60s, with all of the activism and the opposition,” she recalled.

The social rights movement is something Salem attributes to the birth of her passion as she explained that, had it not been for the activism, she would not have been exposed so deeply to black history.

“I grew up in homogenous Lakewood and it was mostly white at that time,” Salem said. “I had little contact with people of diverse appearance.”

Salem explained that it was a required course in black history that began her interest, noting that she hasn’t always been so dedicated to the topic. She recalled a question she once asked.

“Why do I have to take black history? I’m white.”

However, upon delving into the class material, she explained that she realized there was so much she didn’t know about black history, it infuriated her and she felt compelled to know more.

Salem’s first research project featured Ida B. Wells-Barnett, who was an early African-American civil rights leader. This is when her passion started to solidify and centralize, leading her to focus on black women in history.

“That was the beginning of my interest in the field because there was no field in black woman studies at the time so I got in on the ground floor there,” Salem said.

As Salem studied black women in history, she started to look at black women as role-models because she didn’t like the “white woman role-model of the housewife who gets taken care of.”

“Black women were a great role model,” Salem said. “They always worked and they always had families and they always coped.”

Salem’s unapologetic passion about black women in history as a white woman is something she expressed she has gotten some resistance for over the years but persisted with regardless.

“There are times when I wondered if I should just go into women’s history,” she said. “But black history is where my soul is and how can I deny who I am?”

Salem stressed the importance of black history to people who are not black.

“If you see how one group has been left out and pigeon-holed and dealt with, you then have an eye open to other groups,” Salem said. “You say, well what do I know about Native-Americans? What do I know about women? What were they doing at this time?


SGA president reviews past and future in address

CSU Giving Day exceeds expectations

Senate reacts to board concerns on accountability

Poetry Center grant will promote literary diversity

Black Student Union presents 'New Black Renaissance' panel

Collaboration with Student Life is a win-win for students, university

Yes to Sex means Yes to Test

A disease of addiction


Stater reporters share their videos and photographs. Visit the Image Gallery. SEE More ...



About Us Advertise