Associate professor Valinda Littlefield’s love for history began when she was a child, sipping on hot sugar water and eating saltine crackers while listening to the stories of her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother in Durham, North Carolina.
Littlefield went to school during the era of segregation. She attended Little River, which was an all-Black school, until it was desegregated when she was 16 years old. She then went to Northern High School but transferred to Durham High School where one of her teachers influenced her love for history.
“My social studies teacher was Jay Rogers — James Rogers,” Littlefield said. “He was awarded the national social studies award under Nixon, and he was the first Black to receive that award.”
Littlefield went on to get her undergraduate degree from North Carolina Central University in 1987 and her Ph.D. in African American History Since 1815 at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 2003.
Littlefield began working at USC in 1999 as an instructor. After receiving her Ph.D., she became an assistant professor of history and African American Studies. In 2010, she accepted the role of the director of African American Studies.
“I had asked her at one point to serve as the director of the African American Studies Department,” Educational Foundation Distinguished Professor Mary Anne Fitzpatrick said. “It really had kind of fallen on hard times, and it hadn't had the money to hire new faculty and things. And she came in and just energized people.”
As the director of African American Studies, Littlefield helped found the Institute for African American Research, hired several prestigious professors and created an inclusive atmosphere for the students, according to Fitzpatrick.
Littlefield co-edited a three-volume book called "South Carolina Women: Their Lives and Times." The books explore the stories and contributions of South Carolina women from all backgrounds.
She is currently working on a book about what it was like to be a Black female schoolteacher from 1884 to 1965. Littlefield is also writing the introduction to a book about the African American experience at USC and is a part of the Presidential Commission on University History.
“I greatly admire the fact that she's still making the contributions that she is at the university,” Todd Shaw, associate professor of political science and African American Studies, said. “As someone who is a senior scholar, at her level, could be quietly just going about teaching her classes, researching and being as much in the background as administration will permit you to be, but she's still very much out on the front.”
While researching and writing several books, Littlefield enjoys teaching her students.
“When you see the light bulbs go off, or they challenge you, or they, you know, they stay around and ask more questions, or they come in early and ask questions, or they say, ‘This really made me think about this,’" Littlefield said, "that's what I love.”
Shaw described Littlefield as someone who makes connections with others and builds bridges. When she was younger, Littlefield's grandmother had a saying that she still holds dear in her life and career.
“She had a saying that said, ‘No matter how thin the slice of cake, it has two sides,”’ Littlefield said. “And so, I've always felt that when looking at historical documents, or whatever or dealing with people, there are two sides — sometimes multiple sides, but there are at least two sides to everything. And so, I hold myself to that.”