OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

OAH Distinguished Lectureship program 40 years 1981-2021

Karen L. Cox

Portrait of Karen L. Cox
Image Credit: Logan Cyrus

Karen L. Cox is a professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where she teaches courses in American history with a focus on southern history and culture. She is the author of Dixie's Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture (2003), which won the Southern Association for Women Historians' Julia Cherry Spruill Prize, Dreaming of Dixie: How the South Was Created in American Popular Culture (2011), and Goat Castle: A True Story of Murder, Race, and the Gothic South (2017), as well as the editor of Destination Dixie: Tourism and Southern History (2012). A public intellectual, she has written op-eds for the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time, CNN, Publishers Weekly, and the Huffington Post. She has been interviewed by journalists from around the world for her expertise on Confederate monuments and Confederate culture more broadly. Her most recent book, No Common Ground: Confederate Monuments and the Ongoing Fight for Racial Justice will be published in 2021. Her next project will examine the Rhythm Club fire in Natchez, Mississippi. More than 200 members of the African American community perished in this fire in April 1940, leading the Chicago Defender to call it "the worst tragedy in the history of the race."

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

Since 2015, Confederate monuments have been at the center of public debates and national politics. For some, these statues are symbolic of white supremacy and systemic racism, while others see them as benign objects of history and heritage. These divergent points of view did not recently emerge but have existed since the nineteenth century. Like the monuments themselves, they are set in stone. There is, simply put, no common ground.
This lecture explores how the debate over Confederate monuments took shape after the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville and draws on Dr. Cox's personal experience writing op-eds, giving talks, and the public's response.
This lecture focuses on the historical recovery of ordinary people and what they tell us about American history. Using the life of one woman, an innocent black domestic convicted of murder in the Jim Crow South, this lecture emphasizes the importance of local history, oral history, and bringing together the small details of her life to create a portrait of a woman whose life sat at the intersection of slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the civil rights movement.
While the emphasis of the talk is on the pre-television era, the discussion is extended through contemporary representations of the South in popular media. The presentation includes sound and film clips.