OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

LaShawn Harris

Portrait of LaShawn Harris
Image Credit: Jared D. Milburn

LaShawn Harris is an associate professor of History at Michigan State University and assistant editor for the Journal of African American History (JAAH). Her area of expertise includes twentieth century African American and Black Women’s histories. Harris’s scholarly essays are published in The Journal of African American History, Journal of Social History, Journal of Urban History, Journal of Women’s History, and SOULS: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society. Her first monograph, Sex Workers, Psychics, and Number Runners: Black Women in New York City’s Underground Economy, won the 2017 Organization of American Historians' (OAH) Darlene Clark Hine award for the best book in African American women's and gender history and the Philip Taft Labor Prize from The Labor and Working-Class History Association (LAWCHA) and the Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) School at Cornell University. Harris’s work has been featured in popular media outlets, including TV-One, Glamour Magazine, Elle, Vice, and Black Perspectives. Harris’s current research project explores the socioeconomic and political lives of African American women in New York City during the 1980s.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

This presentation places early twentieth century African American women at the center of New York City's lucrative gambling racket. An examination of urban women gambling racketeers like Harlem’s infamous “Numbers Queen” Madame Stephanie St. Clair complicates masculine representations of urban underground economies and disrupts the view that women did not figure prominently in vice syndicates. Moreover, this lecture tells the untold story of why and how women used urban informal economies to creatively secure economic stability, wealth, and respectability and to make a bold statement about Jim Crow North.
In 1912, sixteen-year-old Hampton, Virginia resident and laundress Virginia Christian killed her white employer: fifty-one-year-old widow and mother Ida Belote. Contributing to the expanding historical scholarship on African American women, this lecture employs the 1912 murder as a window into the lived experiences of some southern working-class black women and girls during the early twentieth century. It critically interrogates Christian’s experiences as a household laborer, her murder trial and execution, and her use of lethal violence as a survival and resistance strategy against race oppression, labor exploitation, and white violence.
This presentation tells the unfamiliar story of Black New Yorkers' longstanding political fight against police brutality during the 1980s; a period widely remembered for urban decay, economic instability, political conservativism, crime, racial violence, and new cultural music and art forms.