OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Nan Elizabeth Woodruff

Portrait of Nan Elizabeth Woodruff

Nan Elizabeth Woodruff is a professor of African American studies and modern U.S. history at Penn State University. A specialist in twentieth-century African American and southern history, she is the author of American Congo: The African American Freedom Struggle in the Delta (2003, paperback edition 2012), winner of the McClemore Prize. She is currently working on a book project entitled "The Legacies of Everyday Struggle: Memory and Trauma in Grenada and Tallahatchie County, Mississippi in the Post-Civil Rights Era." She has worked extensively with public school teachers.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

This lecture is based on the legacies of violence and terror that followed in the wake of the 1966 Civil Rights Movement in Grenada, Mississippi. It seeks to understand how African Americans have confronted in their everyday lives the terror and violence that underwrote white supremacy in the Twentieth Century South. Through oral histories, Woodruff describes a community where horrendous crimes were committed, where the perpetrators were never held accountable, where the victims had to live and interact with the torturers, rapists, murderers, and thieves who had inflicted harm upon their families. This study focuses on lived experience filtered through individual and community memory. It is also a history of the silences that have surrounded these traumatic events. Woodruff locates these narratives of black and white people within Grenada's shifting political and economic conditions to illustrate how the legacies of the violent civil rights movement in the city and efforts to silence its history continue to resonate in ways that are not discernible to most people.
This lecture discusses the Elaine, Arkansas Massacre that occurred in 1919. It describes the ways that black people had been politicized during World War I, focusing on their organized activities to claim their citizenship rights. The Elaine Massacre represented the efforts of the local, state, and federal governments to destroy the political efforts of black people in the Delta. The story of Elaine is a powerful account of the efforts of rural black people to mobilize against white supremacy and the force that the power structures employed to destroy those efforts.