One of Fielding’s most beloved and influential activists now has an affectionate portrait of her life and work.
Written by Jenny Johnson-Riley, Ph.D. and published through Fielding University Press, Marie Fielder: A Portrait showcases how Dr. Marie Fielder, who was the first African American woman with a doctorate to teach in the San Francisco Bay Area, influenced public education in California and throughout the nation. Dr. Johnson-Riley, a Fielding alum who works in the treatment and prevention of sexual violence in Washington State, describes Dr. Fielder’s incalculable achievements in this 94-page publication.
Dr. Johnson-Riley was a member of the inaugural class of Fielder Fellows and felt a connection to Dr. Fielder and her work. She wanted to ensure that Dr. Fielder’s work was not forgotten, and when she learned that the Marie Fielder Center was planning to commission a monograph to document Dr. Fielder’s life, she jumped at the opportunity to be involved in the project.
“Dr. Fielder was on the founding Board of Trustees of Fielding Graduate University, but she’s one of the unsung heroes or “hidden figures,” if you will, of Fielding in terms of the roles she played to create the university and birth it into existence,” Dr. Johnson-Riley said. “The monograph speaks to how closely she was aligned with the university and its goals. It is so important to make sure that her story is known, not only in terms of her contributions to Fielding, but also in terms of the contributions throughout her life.”
A strong advocate for social justice, Dr. Fielder facilitated interracial community dialogues in the aftermath of the Birmingham Church Bombings in 1963 and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968 to de-escalate violence and promote community healing.
“I’m a big believer in learning from history, and particularly in learning from the work of prior activists,” said Dr. Johnson-Riley. “We don’t have the reinvent the wheel or think we are the first generation that’s ever had to deal with a particular issue. We can learn a lot and improve our own effectiveness and understanding as social change agents when we learn from prior activists.”
Dr. Fielder helped the public schools in Berkeley to become the first in the nation to desegregate through a two-way busing system, and she later worked to facilitate racial integration throughout California public schools. Fielder’s work in school integration was one of her proudest accomplishments. In fact, Dr. Johnson-Riley participated in a two-way busing program during her childhood.
“When public school began to desegregate after the Brown decision in 1954, a one-way busing program would bring children from predominantly African American neighborhoods to predominantly white areas in order to integrate schools,” said Dr. Johnson-Riley. “There was still a structural inequality involved in that process because the African American children were taken out of their neighborhoods, to attend school in predominately white neighborhoods. With Dr. Fielder’s two-way-busing system, African American and white children were brought into each other’s communities.
“I was a beneficiary of Dr. Fielder’s two-way busing program, as I grew up in Las Vegas in the 1980s. I grew up in a predominantly white area and was bussed into a predominantly African American community to attend what was then called a sixth-grade center. I always felt that experience was an integral part of my identity formation because I got to appreciate the benefits of diversity and inclusion programs from a very young age.
“My parents were insistent that I go to public schools and that I participate in this program at a time when many parents sent their children to private schools for their sixth-grade year. It was only much later that I understood why it was so important to have that level of integration. So, I have benefited from Dr. Fielder’s legacy personally, and that made me really want to tell her story.”
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Dr. Fielder worked as a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant for corporations, including Merrill Lynch and Intuit Corporation. Through her vision and commitment to racial justice during her 60-year career, Dr. Fielder inspired many and left an indelible mark on the entire nation.
Dr. Fielder was an instrumental member of Fielding’s Board of Trustees when Fielding was founded in 1974. Fielding’s articles of incorporation were signed on her birthday, March 11. Dr. Fielder continued to be involved with the university throughout her life, and her influence is still felt today, particularly through the work of the Marie Fielder Center for Democracy, Leadership, and Education, which was founded in 2016. The Center honors the legacy and work of Dr. Fielder and encourages research that addresses today’s educational and social problems. Learn more here.
Marie Fielder: A Portrait is available in print ($19.95) and e-book versions ($9.95) on Amazon and other booksellers.
About the Author
Jenny Johnson-Riley, Ph.D.
Jenny Johnson-Riley, Ph.D., is a scholar-activist working at the intersections of race and gender in the movement to end violence against women. She earned her Ph.D. in Human Development from Fielding Graduate University, where she also held the honor of serving as a member of the inaugural cohort of doctoral fellows at the Marie Fielding Center for Democracy, Leadership, and Education. Jenny Johnson-Riley has presented her research at the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education and National Women’s Studies Association.
Jenny Johnson-Riley’s professional work includes counseling survivors and perpetrators of sexual violence, program development, and public policy consulting. She currently works in a private psychotherapy practice in Washington state and is on the Board of Directors for the Washington State Association for the Treatment and Prevention of Sexual Abuse.
About Dr. Marie Fielder
Dr. Marie Fielder
Dr. Marie Fielder was one of the most influential women in the history of California education. Through her vision and commitment to justice throughout her lifetime and 60-year career, Dr. Fielder inspired many and left an indelible mark on the entire nation.
She was the first African American woman with a doctorate to teach in the San Francisco Bay Area and one of the first researchers who documented cultural bias in IQ tests. She helped the Berkeley public schools become the first in the nation to desegregate through two-way busing—one of her proudest accomplishments. She was also a member of the Founding Board of Trustees at Fielding.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Dr. Fielder contributed to the work of such civil rights leaders as Martin Luther King Jr. and Whitney Young. She also advised numerous government and civil-rights organizations.