OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

OAH Distinguished Lectureship program 40 years 1981-2021

James N. Gregory

Portrait of James N. Gregory

James N. Gregory is a professor of history and former Harry Bridges Endowed Chair of Labor Studies at the University of Washington. His work focuses on labor, civil rights, radicalism, migration, and also public history. He directs the Civil Rights and Labor History Consortium, a set of online multimedia public history projects. His books include The Southern Diaspora: How the Great Migrations of Black and White Southerners Transformed America (2005), won the Philip Taft Labor History Book Award. His American Exodus: The Dust Bowl Migration and Okie Culture in California (1989) also won two major book prizes. More recently he edited The Seattle General Strike Centennial Edition by Robert L. Friedheim. Introduction, photo essay, and afterword by James N. Gregory (2018). He is currently writing a book about the history of radicalism on the West Coast and directing the Racial Restrictive Covenants Project - Washington State.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

The American Left has been uniquely unstable. Its organizations come and go, flourishing for a time then withering, only to be replaced at some later point by a new Left based in different organizations, often with different demography, geography, and ideological agendas. This talk maps five distinct left constellations over the past century and explores the question of how American radicalism has repeatedly reconstituted itself absent the supportive institutional apparatus of an electoral party.
This talk addresses a question that is often asked but seldom investigated in a systematic way. Why has radicalism found a home in certain locations in the United States but not others? It is a question made more complicated by the uneven history of the America left. Radical movements don’t last very long in the US and when new ones emerge, they are often very different than their predecessors. And the geography shifts. Some regions fostered left wing activism in one era but turned conservative in others. But the West Coast has a more consistent history. Why?
The Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project began in 2004 with a tiny budget and a determination to create an online resource for documenting and publicizing stories of civil rights activism in a city that had learned to forget its history of white supremacy. The project has since evolved into a public history success story that offers a model for linking academic and public history, for giving history undergraduates research experience and publishing opportunities, for exploiting the digital revolution and bringing historical research to broad publics and K-12 classrooms, and, most of all, for connecting universities to the communities they serve.
The Seattle General Strike earned headlines across the nation, and across oceans. In an extraordinary act of solidarity, members of more than one hundred unions had voted to stop work in support of shipyard workers who had already been on strike for two weeks. This talk explores the event and its legacies. The General Strike led off the great strike wave of 1919 and has served later generations of labor radicals as an inspiration. It also anchors the political reputation of the Pacific Northwest as a region friendly to radicalism.