OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Spencer Crew

Portrait of Spencer Crew

Spencer Crew has worked at museums as well as universities over the past twenty-five years. The Clarence J. Robinson Professor of American, African American, and Public History at George Mason University, he is the former director of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and the former president of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. His primary area of research interest is African American history, and he has created exhibitions and written on both the Underground Railroad and the migration of African Americans to the North during and after World War I. Crew is currently serving as interim director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

The presentation chronicles the movement of African Americans from the South to the North during and after WWI. It looks at the factors which propelled them to leave the south like the boll weevil, segregation laws and economic discrimination as well as the factors drawing them north such as new industrial jobs, better education and living conditions for themselves and their children. This was the start of the African Americans becoming more urban and more northern. It also changes the way the nation has to think about issues of race. Issue captured in view of Dubois that the issue of the 20th century would be the issue of the color line.
The last living generation of the formerly enslaved was interviewed by WPA interviewers in the 1930s. They offered a unique perspective on the enslaved experience which undermines suggestions that slavery was a benign institution. What they have to say is a powerful reminder of the inhumanity of the institution and the toll it took on the people forced to live under it.
The effort to create NMAAHC has a long history which culminated in its opening in September of 2016. That story and the content of the new museum are the focus of this presentation.
Thurgood Marshall in the course of his career helped change the way the country thought about and created laws connected to civil rights. The story of his early career is often eclipsed by his role as Supreme Court Justice. However, the days before the Supreme Court possibly had even more impact. That part of his career will will be the primary focus of this lecture.

Civil War at 150 podcast conversation with OAH Distinguished Lectureship Program coordinator Annette Windhorn