Distinguished Lecturers
Kidada E. Williams

Kidada E. Williams

Kidada E. Williams is professor of history at Wayne State University in Detroit. Her area of expertise includes African American history, specifically the eras of chattel slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction, and Jim Crow. She is the author of I Saw Death Coming: A History of Terror and Survival (2023) and They Left Great Marks on Me (2012). She served as the host and producer of “Seizing Freedom,” a history podcast docudrama covering African Americans’ epic story of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Williams is co-editor of #CharlestonSyllabus and Charleston Syllabus Readings on Race, Racism, and Racial Violence (2016). Her scholarly essays are published in the Journal of American History, Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, Journal of the Civil War Era, Make Good the Promises: Reconstruction and Its Legacies, The World the Civil War Made, and Reconstruction and the Arc of Racial (in)Justice. Her work has been featured in popular outlets including in DAME magazine, Slate, The American Historian, and the New York Times. Williams has served as a consultant for “Finding Your Roots,” “Who Do You Think You Are?,” PBS North Carolina’s “Insurrection 1898,” and “A Man Called White.” She appeared on Hulu/ABC’s “1619 Project”; PBS’s “Reconstruction: America after the Civil War”; NPR’s “Morning Edition” and “On Point”; “BackStory with the American History Guys”; Slate Academy: Reconstruction, and “Why is This Happening? with Chris Hayes.”
Williams has provided Educator Workshops on the Civil War and Reconstruction and the Jim Crow Era for institutions including the American Civil War Museum, Humanities Texas, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, and she is on the Zinn Education Project’s roster of People’s Historians.

OAH Lectures by Kidada E. Williams

From slavery to Jim Crow through vigilante killings, violence has the power behind racist systems in the U.S. In this lecture, Williams uses historical records to unearth historic practices of anti-Black violence—from the violence of enslavement and resistance to emancipation to political assassinations and night-riding assaults through lynchings and massacres. By centering targeted people’s accounts and their astute insight into their attackers’ aims and tactics, Williams reveals the richness of African Americans’ and their allies’ multi-faceted resistance to this violence and the legacy of their efforts.

The whitewashing of U.S. history and erasure of African Americans’ history is part of an ongoing effort to legitimize and sustain unjust systems. In this lecture, Williams details African Americans’ historic pedagogies of resistance to white supremacist indoctrination as part of their larger fight to expand and protect their fundamental rights.

The Civil War is often told from the perspective of the politicians, generals, and armies whose accounts claim an outsized place in collective memory. But historical records centering African Americans help us see this pivotal era with new eyes. In this lecture, Williams transports audiences into the daily existence of the enslaved Black people and their free Black allies in the North and West who used the chaos of the bloody conflict to strike for freedom. Using gripping firsthand accounts of African Americans, Williams disrupts popular fables of the era by bringing the epic story of the Freedom War to life.

The story of Reconstruction is often told from the perspective of the politicians whose accounts claim an outsized place in collective memory. But this pivotal era looked very different to African Americans in the South transitioning from bondage to freedom after 1865. Using stories from her new book, I Saw Death Coming: A History of Terror and Survival in the War Against Reconstruction, Williams offers a breakthrough account of this much-debated period, transporting audiences into the daily existence of formerly enslaved families building hope-filled new lives. Williams offers a revelatory and, in some cases, minute-by-minute record of the nighttime raids and Ku Klux Klan strikes that helped bring the bold expansion of American freedom and democracy to an end.

Many Americans learn in school that Reconstruction “failed.” But few can accurately identify who failed to do what and why. The story of Reconstruction looks completely different when we move from the centers of power in D.C. to the hamlets and villages across the South where the rubber of policies met the road of everyday life. In this lecture, Williams challenges the Lost Cause narrative of the Civil War and Reconstruction by detailing the story of African Americans and their allies’ historic achievements and the causes and consequences of the nation’s betrayal of their expansion American freedom and democracy

Few Americans today understand Jim Crow’s origins and how much African Americans resisted it. In this lecture, Williams charts the installation of the new social, economic, and political frameworks of racial apartheid and illuminates African Americans’ fight to hold onto the promises of Reconstruction by organizing one of the most revolutionary social movements the world has seen to end legal segregation. By showing the complex realities of Jim Crow—including its pedagogy of disinformation, erasure, and indoctrination—and the struggle against it, Williams challenges the convenient narratives about the era and highlights the lessons today’s freedom fighters might learn for the work that remains to be done.

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