Meet the Keepers of Black Women’s History

These scholars are using their classrooms, their research and their writing to make sure we know the full story of black women in America.

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    Heather Williams (courtesy of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill); Nell Painter (Wikimedia Commons); Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (courtesy of Harvard University)

    Often behind the scenes and with little fanfare, these black female historians earn doctorates, churn out articles and books, and train the next generation of researchers. They have taken on the task of making sure we understand everything from the nature of sexual violence during slavery to the work of African-American feminist organizations. So during this Women’s History Month, meet the scholars who are the keepers of black women’s history—not just in February or March but all year (and all career) long.

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    Courtesy of Smith College

    Paula Giddings

    This Smith College professor is the author of three books on the social and political history of African-American women: When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America; In Search of Sisterhood: Delta Sigma Theta and the Challenge of the Black Sorority Movement; and, most recently, a critically acclaimed biography of anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells, Ida: A Sword Among Lions.

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    Courtesy of Princeton University

    Tera Hunter

    A Princeton University professor, Hunter is a scholar of U.S. history, with specializations in African Americans, gender, labor and the South. She’s particularly interested in the history of slavery and freedom and is writing a book on African-American marriages in the 19th century.

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    Courtesy of the University of Illinois at Chicago

    Barbara Ransby

    Ransby, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is the author of an award-winning biography of civil rights activist Ella Baker, entitled Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision. She’s also undertaken a study of African-American feminist organizations in the 1970s and a political biography of Eslanda Cardozo Goode Robeson.

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    Courtesy of Northwestern University

    Darlene Clark Hine

    This Northwestern University professor of African-American studies and history has conducted extensive research on African-American women’s history. She teaches “Introduction to African American Studies,” “Black Women in the 20th Century” and “History of Black Women in the Diaspora.”

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    Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham with Henry Louis Gates Jr. (courtesy of Harvard University)

    Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham

    The chairwoman of Harvard’s department of African and African-American studies, Higginbotham has written several works, including the book Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church: 1880-1920 and the essay “African-American Women’s History and the Metalanguage of Race,” which appeared in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society.

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    Courtesy of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

    Martha S. Jones

    Jones is a professor of history, Afro-American and African studies, and law at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She’s co-director of the Celia Project, a research collaboration among scholars in history, law and literature that examines the history of race, slavery and sexual violence. The group will produce an edited volume and a public history project connected to the 1855 case of State of Missouri v. Celia, a Slave.

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    Courtesy of the University of Georgia

    Chana Kai Lee

    Lee, an associate professor of history at the University of Georgia, is the author of For Freedom’s Sake: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer. The book won the Willie Lee Rose Prize, awarded by the Southern Association for Women Historians, and the Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Book Prize, awarded by the Association of Black Women Historians.

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    Courtesy of the University of Maryland

    Elsa Barkley Brown

    Brown, an associate professor at the University of Maryland, says of her focus on African-American political culture, with an emphasis on gender: “This takes me in exciting and varied directions, from a focus on citizenship and rights to literal and conceptual maps of the daily lives and worldviews of African Americans in the 19th and early 20th centuries, to explorations of contemporary African-American women visual artists’ and filmmakers’ engagements with history.”

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    Courtesy of Rutgers University

    Deborah Gray White

    A specialist in African-American and American women’s history, this Rutgers University professor is especially interested in identity and the intersection of race, class, gender and sexuality. She is the author of books including Too Heavy a Load: Black Women in Defense of Themselves, 1894-1994 and Ar’n’t I a Woman? Female Slaves in the Plantation South.

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    Courtesy of North Carolina State University

    Blair Kelley

    This North Carolina State University associate professor of history’s award-winning book, Right to Ride: Streetcar Boycotts and African American Citizenship in the Era of Plessy v. Ferguson, tells the stories of the brave but little-known men and women who faced down the violence of lynching and urban race riots to contest segregation. Her scholarship centers on the history of African-American resistance to segregation, and she writes and presents work on African-American women’s history in addition to urban history, legal history and Southern history.

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    Wikimedia Commons

    Nell Painter

    In addition to traditional courses in American history and African-American studies, this Princeton professor‘s interdisciplinary work includes a focus on the social construction of gender, race and personal beauty.

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    Wikimedia Commons

    Rosalyn Terborg-Penn

    Terborg-Penn, a former Morgan State professor and the founder of the Association of Black Women Historians, is an expert in African-American women’s history. Her publications about women’s suffrage, feminism, politics, slavery and work include African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850-1920 and Women in Africa and the African Diaspora: A Reader.

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    Courtesy of New York University

    Jennifer L. Morgan

    A professor of social and cultural analysis and history at New York University, Morgan has done research in several areas, including early African-American history, comparative slavery, and the histories of racial ideology and women and gender. She is the author of Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery.

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    Courtesy of Crystal Feimster

    Crystal Feimster

    An assistant professor of African-American studies and American studies at Yale, Feimster has an academic focus on racial and sexual violence. Currently she’s completing a project on rape during the Civil War. Her book, Southern Horrors: Women and the Politics of Rape and Lynching, focuses on two female journalists: Ida B. Wells, who campaigned against lynching, and Rebecca Latimer Felton, who urged white men to prove their manhood by lynching black men accused of raping white women.

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    Courtesy of Brown University

    Françoise N. Hamlin

    This Brown University assistant professor’s current research contends with child activists in the black freedom struggle of the 1950s to the 1970s. Her book, Crossroads at Clarksdale: The Black Freedom Struggle in the Mississippi Delta After World War II, is a critical analysis of the trajectory of the mass movement through a local study. She teaches courses on African-American history and African-American women’s history.

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    Courtesy of Howard University

    Elizabeth Clark-Lewis

    In addition to her courses on African-American women, women in the U.S. and African-American history, this Howard University professor has penned more than a dozen articles and book chapters on women, race, household workers and other topics. Clark-Lewis is also the author of Living In, Living Out: African American Domestics in Washington, D.C.: 1910-1940.

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    Courtesy of Duke University

    Thavolia Glymph

    After writing Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household, this Duke University associate professor took on a project about the experience of enslaved and freed women on the battlefields of the Civil War. She is currently working on the upcoming book Women at War.

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    Screenshot (YouTube)

    Sharon Harley

    This associate professor and former chairwoman of the department of African-American studies at the University of Maryland, College Park, researches and teaches black women’s labor history and racial and gender politics. She is the editor of, and a contributor to, the anthologies Sister Circle: Black Women and Work and Women’s Labor in the Global Economy: Speaking in Multiple Voices. Her most recent essay appears in Telling Histories: Black Women Historians in the Ivory Tower.

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    Courtesy of Case Western Reserve University

    Rhonda Y. Williams

    Williams is an associate professor of history at Case Western Reserve University and the award-winning author of The Politics of Public Housing: Black Women’s Struggles Against Urban Inequality. Her publications include articles on black power politics, the war on poverty, low-income black women’s grassroots organizing, and urban and housing policy.

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    The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    Heather Williams

    A professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Williams teaches and writes about African Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries, with an emphasis on the South. She is the author of Self-Taught: African American Education in Slavery and Freedom and is currently working on a book about the separation of African-American families during the antebellum period, as well as efforts to reunify families after emancipation.

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