OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

OAH Distinguished Lectureship program 40 years 1981-2021

Kenneth Janken

Portrait of Kenneth Janken

Kenneth Janken's research focuses on 20th-century African American history. He teaches courses at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on the Civil Rights Movement; class, race, and inequality in the U.S.; the art, literature, and politics of the Harlem Renaissance; African American intellectual history; and African American autobiography. His most recent book, The Wilmington Ten: Violence, Injustice, and the Rise of Black Politics in the 1970s (2016), tells of the 1971 racial tension surrounding school desegregation in Wilmington, North Carolina, winner of the Clarendon Award from the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society for best book on the region. Janken also authored two biographies: Rayford W. Logan and the Dilemma of the African-American Intellectual (1993) and Walter White: Mr. NAACP (2003), which won honorable mention in the Outstanding Book Awards from the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights in North America. He has also published academic articles on topics including the Harlem Renaissance, the civil rights movement in the 1940s, African Americans and world affairs, and school desegregation in North Carolina.

 

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

In February 1971, racial tension surrounding school desegregation in Wilmington, North Carolina, culminated in four days of violence and skirmishes between white vigilantes and black residents. The turmoil resulted in two deaths, six injuries, more than $500,000 in damage, and the firebombing of a white-owned store, before the National Guard restored uneasy peace. Despite glaring irregularities in the subsequent trial, ten young persons were convicted of arson and conspiracy and then sentenced to a total of 282 years in prison. They became known internationally as the Wilmington Ten. This lecture address three general questions: What occurred in Wilmington in 1971 that climaxed in civil unrest and acts of violence? Why were ten individuals, most of them high school students, framed for crimes emanating from those disturbances? How did a movement develop to deliver them justice, and what was the significance of that movement for our understanding of the African American freedom struggle, both retrospectively and prospectively?
The post-World War II African American freedom struggle fundamentally reshaped southern and national society and politics. But the demolition of Jim Crow, which roughly coincided with the emergence of a neo-liberal order in the U.S., left undecided a host of questions about the type and quality of society that should replace Jim Crow segregation. This lecture delves into the debates about goals, strategy, and tactics that animated movement activists and leaders as they fought to tear down an edifice and build a world on its rubble.