Getting to know our faculty
Assistant Professor, Michael Slaughter, teaches 20th Century United States history and serves as the advisor and instructor for the pre-credential option in the Department of History. Slaughter’s research focuses on race in the American West, particularly in connection to the African American experience. His latest project examines notions and practices of racial tolerance and racial innocence in mid-twentieth century Los Angeles.
In his manuscript, titled, "Lesson on Freedom: Jefferson High School and Los Angeles, 1920-1960, Slaughter uses the high school in Los Angeles' Central Avenue neighborhood as a window into the community's past. From this vantage point, Slaughter explores the intersections between education, employment, and housing to see how these structures interacted to shape the black experience during the mid 20th century. The manuscript is currently under early contract with the University of Oklahoma Press and is expected to be published next year.
What is one thing you would like others to know about your profession?
People who are not history oriented have a hard time figuring out why history matters. They understand it’s a story about dead people long ago but not why it matters. I strive to demonstrate the applicability of the past and the present to show that they aren’t severed. We can’t compartmentalize time. The past is present in today. The past shapes student’s lives, and to understand the world that they live in they need to understand history in order to make good decisions for the present and for the future. This is the importance that I strive to teach students especially in a polytechnic university that tends to think of History as an after-thought.
What was the best book or series that you’ve ever read?
I think one of the best books I have read is Robert Self’s, “American Babylon.” It is an urban history of Oakland, California but it’s about the processes that shaped the metropolitan all throughout the United States. The book illuminated for me the processes that shaped the metropolitan landscape in America in the mid 20th century. It really left a big impression on me.
Why did you decide to become a professor?
I did not have a clear-cut plan to be a teacher I sort of fell into it. I needed a job out of college, and I needed to make money so I started to substitute teach. I found that I kind of liked teaching and decided to pursue my teaching credential. I taught at the high school level for nine years. I loved teaching advanced placement because I loved the level of engagement and abilities these students had with the subject, and that was what inspired me to move to college. I have always had a real passion for history but taking courses for my master’s degree really opened my eyes to the practice of history, not just the content, but the discipline of history. It was eye-opening and actually fun to write a research paper, believe it or not.
Who is a person living or deceased you wish you could meet?
W.E.B. DuBois- he was fighting the good fight when times were extremely tough. One could argue that for African Americans, times have always been tough but he was bold and made demands on the system, in a time period when it was extremely dangerous to do so. He co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was a strong activist, a premier intellectual of the turn of the 20th century, and one of the first African Americans to graduate with a doctorate from Harvard. I would like to meet him at the end of his life because I would like to ask him about the series of transformations he made throughout his life and what experiences shaped these transformations of his principles.