OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Martha S. Jones

Portrait of Martha S. Jones

Professor Martha S. Jones is the Society of Black Alumni Presidential Professor and Professor of History at The Johns Hopkins University. She is a legal and cultural historian whose work examines how black Americans have shaped the story of American democracy. Professor Jones is the author of Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America (2018), winner of the OAH Liberty Legacy Award for the best book in civil rights history, the American Historical Association Littleton-Griswold Prize for the best book in American legal history, and the American Society for Legal History John Phillip Reid book award for the best book in Anglo-American legal history. Forthcoming in 2020 is Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Fought for Rights for All. Professor Jones is also author of All Bound Up Together: The Woman Question in African American Public Culture 1830-1900 (2007) and a coeditor of Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women (2015), together with many important articles and essay. Today, she is at work on a biography of US Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney. Professor Jones is recognized as a public historian, frequently writing for broader audiences at outlets including the Washington Post, the Atlantic, USA Today, Public Books, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and Time, the curatorship of museum exhibitions including “Reframing the Color Line” and “Proclaiming Emancipation” in conjunction with the William L. Clements Library, and collaborations with the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, the Charles Wright Museum of African American History, the American Experience, the Southern Poverty Law Center, PBS, Netflix, and Arte (France.)

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

Birthright Citizens tells how African American activists radically transformed the terms of citizenship for all Americans. Before the Civil War, colonization schemes and black laws threatened to deport former slaves born in the United States. Birthright Citizens recovers the story of how African American activists remade national belonging through battles in legislatures, conventions, and courthouses. They faced formidable opposition, most notoriously from the US Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott. Still, Martha S. Jones explains, no single case defined their status. Former slaves studied law, secured allies, and conducted themselves like citizens, establishing their status through local, everyday claims. All along they argued that birth guaranteed their rights. With fresh archival sources and an ambitious reframing of constitutional law-making before the Civil War, Jones shows how when the Fourteenth Amendment constitutionalized the birthright principle, the aspirations of black Americans' aspirations were realized.
In the standard story, the suffrage crusade began in Seneca Falls in 1848 and ended with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. But this overwhelmingly white women's movement did not win the vote for most black women. Securing their rights required a movement of their own. In Vanguard, acclaimed historian Martha S. Jones offers a new history of African American women's political lives in America. She recounts how they defied both racism and sexism to fight for the ballot, and how they wielded political power to secure the equality and dignity of all persons. From the earliest days of the republic to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and beyond, Jones excavates the lives and work of black women -- Maria Stewart, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Fannie Lou Hamer, and more -- who were the vanguard of women's rights, calling on America to realize its best ideals.