Hi, I’m Dr. Cherisse Jones-Branch. I graduated from the College of Charleston with my Bachelor of Arts in 1994 and a Master’s Degree in 1997. Both of my degrees are in history. During my time at the College of Charleston, I had the pleasure of working with Drs. Amy T. McCandless, Alpha Bah, Bernard Powers, W. Marvin Dulaney, Stuart Knee, and other distinguished history faculty members. I found myself at the College of Charleston in 1991 after I returned from being deployed to the Persian Gulf in 1990. Although I was born and raised in Charleston and had even attended elementary school downtown, I had not spent much time at the College. As a veteran, I was not sure where I fit in. What I quickly discovered was that I did not have to.
During my time at the College of Charleston, I took an array of courses in Women’s, African, African-American, and World history. In one of the courses I remember most fondly I studied Elizabethan England. My experience in this course later led to a study abroad trip to England where I visited such royal historic sites as the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, and Hever Palace. While partaking of this wonderful journey led by Drs. Nan Morrison and Amy T. McCandless, I saw Shakespearean plays, the Globe, and took exciting weekend trips to Wales and Scotland.
While pursing my Master’s degree, I was fortunate enough to secure a student position at the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture. I had never been in a place where I was surrounded by such a wealth of history on the African American experience in the South Carolina Lowcountry. As my both sides of my family hail from Charleston and Georgetown Counties, I found myself drawn to the sheer volume of archival materials, monographs, and exhibits housed in this once well-known school for African Americans. It was while I was a student employee at Avery that I researched and then wrote my Master’s thesis on black women’s clubs in Charleston and served as a research assistant for Edward Ball, author of Slaves in the Family.
In 1997, I graduated from the College with my Master’s degree and left Charleston, my family, and my friends, and moved to Columbus, Ohio to work on my doctorate at the Ohio State University. It was a new adventure to be sure, and an experience fraught with apprehension and fear. But because of the experiences I had at the College of Charleston and the professors who had taught me lessons I often only later understood, I was prepared.
So what am I doing now? I’m so glad you asked that question! Well, I graduated from Ohio State in 2003 with my Ph.D. in History. I am currently associate professor of history at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro (about an hour away from Memphis, Tennessee), where I teach U.S., Women’s, Civil Rights, and African American history. I have recently completed a manuscript titled Crossing the Line: Women’s Interracial Activism in South Carolina During and After World War II, which will be published by University Press of Florida in February 2014. I am co-editing, Arkansas Women: Their Lives and Times (See South Carolina Women: Their Lives and Times, Volume III, for my essay on Columbia civil rights activist Modjeska Simkins), and I am also hard at work on yet another project on African American home demonstration agents in Arkansas.
I return to Charleston, SC often because my family still lives there and because I will always have a deep connection to my heritage and my roots. When I am in town and if time permits, I visit my old stomping grounds at the College of Charleston and I reminisce. Because, after all, this is where it all began. . .
My advice to Graduate students: LIVE BIG-to go all out, take great leaps, and take big risks even if you are afraid of failure…especially when you are afraid of failure! Also, love the journey. Take the dips and proverbial knee scratches that inevitably come from living a life of purpose and greatness. Start becoming the amazing, talented, confident, self-expressed, no-holds barred, accomplished person you were meant to be. Enjoy Life!