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Historian Alison Rose Jefferson '80 and Director Ted Woods to Discuss Black Surfing History at "White Wash" Screening

White Wash film poster

The 2011 documentary White Wash explores the complexity of race in the United States through the specific lens of surf culture. A screening will be held at Rose Hills Theater on Saturday, February 18, at 6 p.m. during Family Weekend, with a panel discussion following the film, featuring director Ted Woods, historian Alison Rose Jefferson ’80 and BlackSurfing.com founder Rick Blocker.

“Film viewers will be surprised to learn that people of color were surfing in Hawaii and Africa long before the California surf culture and Gidget movies brought the sport to American popular culture attention in the 1950s,” Jefferson told Pomona College last October. “They will be surprised about the history of the complexities of race in America and water culture as seen through the eyes of the ocean and Black Americans.”

Jefferson has delved deeply into the history of a once-segregated stretch of Santa Monica State Beach, the Inkwell. Her words appear on a plaque that commemorates the history of this area as “a place of celebration and pain.” Much of the history—which involves Jim Crow-era segregation, disenfranchisement and even the Los Angeles Times calling, in 1922, for landholders to bar non-whites from beach cities—was unknown to civic leaders until Jefferson unearthed it through oral interviews and poring over old city records and newspapers.

Jefferson is currently working towards completing her third year of doctoral studies in public history/American History at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She earned a BA in sociology from Pomona in 1980 and a master’s degree in historic preservation from USC in 2007. For more information on her Santa Monica historical work, read the Pomona College Magazine feature on her research [pdf] (page 39).

In the film White Wash, Jefferson discusses the Inkwell, the “historic Los Angeles County African-American community’s relationship to the beach,” and Nick Gabaldon, the first identified surfer of African American and Mexican descent. The film weaves together contemporary interviews with professional surfers and scholars with historical archival footage. Grammy-winning singer Ben Harper—a Claremont native who now owns the Folk Music Center in the Village after purchasing it from the founders, his grandparents—narrates the documentary alongside Tariq “Blackthought” Trotter from The Roots; the band provides the score. This is Ted Woods’ first film, inspired in part by his friendship with several Black surfers and a desire to understand their complex relationship with this water sport.

The screening and discussion are sponsored by the Outdoor Education Center and the Pomona Events Committee.