Fighting for the Soul of a Nation: Black American’s Struggle to Keep American Democracy Alive

Endorsed by OAH Committee on the Status of ALANA Historians and ALANA Histories, S-USIH, and the Western History Association

Thursday, March 30, 2023, 2:45 PM - 4:15 PM

Type: Roundtable Discussion

Tags: African American; Politics; Postwar


This roundtable will consider the long history of Black Americans fighting to preserve the ideals of American democracy. Participants will consider whether 2020 represented a watershed moment or a continuation of a long tradition, one in which Black men and women led the fight to save the soul of the nation by struggling to keep American democracy alive. Topics to be discussed include the role played by HBCUs to develop “race leaders” who focused on promoting democratic values, the long history of the struggle for the Black franchise, and the role that Black women have long played in advancing democracy.

Session Participants

Chair and Panelist: Peter Barbin Levy, York College of Pennsylvania
Dr. Peter B. Levy is Full Professor in the Department of History and Political Science at York College of Pennsylvania, where he teaches courses on Recent America, the Civil Rights Movement, and Race and Justice. He is the author of numerous books and articles. His most recent publications include: The Great Uprising: Race Riots in Urban America during the 1960s (Cambridge University Press, 2018), The Seedtime, The Work, and The Harvest: New Perspectives on the Black Freedom Struggle In America, edited by Littlejohn, Levy, and Ellis, (University Press of Florida, 2018), “The Media and H. Rap Brown: Friend or Foe of Jim Crow” in The Strange Careers of Jim Crow, edited by Brian Purnell and Jeanne Theoharis (NYU Press, 2019), “Gloria Richardson and the Civil Rights Movement in Cambridge, Maryland,” in Groundwork: Local Black Freedom Movements in America, edited by Jeanne Theoharis and Komozi Woodard (NYU Press, 2005), and “The Dream Deferred: The Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Holy Week Uprising of 1968,” in Baltimore ’68: Riots and Rebirth in an American City, edited by Jessica Elfeinbein, Thomas Hollawak, and Elizabeth Nix (Temple University Press, 2011. He has been the recipient of the a variety of awards and honors from two NEH Summer Seminars, at the W.E. B. DuBois Institute at Harvard University (2014) and Sarah Lawrence College and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (2016), respectively to an NEH Institute on Doing Digital History, held at George Mason University (2015). Levy earned his Ph.D. from Columbia University (1986) and his B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley (1978).

Panelist: Charles Lester Chavis Jr., George Mason University
Dr. Charles L. Chavis, Jr. is Director of African & African American Studies, founding Director of the John Mitchell, Jr. Program for History, Justice, & Race, at The Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution, and Assistant Professor of History and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University. He is the author of the forthcoming book, The Silent Shore: The Lynching of Matthew Williams and the Politics of Racism in the Free State (Johns Hopkins University Press; January, 2022) which investigates and reconstructs the full story of one of the last lynchings in Maryland. Dr. Chavis is National Co-Chair for the United States Truth Racial Healing and Transformation Movement and Vice Chair of the Maryland Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He also serves on the Exploring Hate Advisory Committee.

Panelist: Reginald K. Kaichun Ellis, Florida A&M University
Dr. Reginald K. Ellis earned a Bachelor of Science degree in African American Studies and a Masters degree in United States History Since 1865, both from Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida. He also earned the Doctorate of Philosophy degree in in United States History from the University of Memphis. Dr. Ellis specializes in the history of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and African American Leaders during the Jim Crow era. His first manuscript entitled: Between Washington and Du Bois: The Racial Politics of James Edward Shepard, is an analytical biography of James Edward Shepard, the founding President of North Carolina Central University, located in Durham, North Carolina, was published in November of 2017 by the University Press of Florida. In 2018 Ellis co-edited the anthology The Seedtime: The Work and The Harvest: New Perspectives on the Black Freedom Struggle in America with Jeffery Litterjohn and Peter Levey.

In the Fall of 2011, Dr. Ellis was hired as an Assistant Professor of History at Florida A&M University and earned Tenure and Promotion to Associate Professor of History in the Fall of 2017. Since his arrival at FAMU he has instructed an array of courses that include: Black Americans in the 20th Century; Introduction to African American History; The African American Experience; Oral Historical Studies and Selected Topics in the Twentieth Century. Due to his teaching philosophy and engaging lectures, he was honored by his students and colleagues by being named the 2016-2017 Florida A&M University Teacher of the Year! In the Fall of 2017, Dr. Ellis was appointed as the Assistant Dean in the School of Graduate Studies and Research, with one of his major functions is to oversee the Florida A&M University Graduate Feeder Scholars Program.

During the summer of 2013 the National Endowment for the Humanities selected Dr. Ellis as one of thirty scholars to serve as a fellow in their Summer Institute at Harvard University’s Du Bois Institute on African-American Struggles for Freedom and Civil Rights. Remaining active in his field of study, Dr. Ellis applied and received a grant from the Florida Department of State to conduct Oral History Interviews on the historic Hill Community in Apalachicola, Florida which will commence in the summer of 2020.

Notwithstanding his scholarship, instruction and administrative roles, Dr. Ellis has remained active with a number of organizations. He is the founding president of the Graduate Association for African American History (GAAAH), which currently hosts the African American History conference at the University of Memphis. Currently, he is serving as with the American Historical Association as a Councilmen in the Professional Division, which is the AHA’s Board of Directors. Also, Dr. Ellis was also appoint to the Board of Directors of the Florida Humanities Councils, in which his term began in January 2020.

Along with his academic services, Dr. Ellis remains active in the community by participating in a number of capacities. He is a member of Leadership Tallahassee Class 31, also served as member of its Board of Governors. He is also a member of Leadership Florida Connect Class IX, in which he is a current member of the Board of Governors, a past member of the Board of Directors for the Legal Aid Foundation Tallahassee. Also, Dr. Ellis remains active in a host of professional and academic organization including the Gamma Mu Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated, and a host of historical associations including the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), the Southern Conference on African and African American Studies, Incorporated (SCAASI), the Organization of American Historians (OAH), and the Southern Historical Association (SHA).

Dr. Ellis is married to Delexis C. Ellis, a 2006 graduate of Florida A&M University and they are the proud parents of, Miss Eva Janelle Ellis.

Panelist: Jeffrey L. Littlejohn, Sam Houston State University
Jeffrey L. Littlejohn serves as Professor of History at Sam Houston State University. A native of Dallas, Texas, he completed his undergraduate degree at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, and his MA and PhD at the University of Arkansas.

He is the co-author or co-editor of three books: Elusive Equality: Desegregation and Resegregation in Norfolk's Public Schools (University of Virginia Press, 2012); The Enemy Within Never Did Without: German and Japanese Prisoners of War at Camp Huntsville, Texas, 1942-1945 (Texas Review Press, 2015); and The Seedtime, the Work, and the Harvest: New Perspectives on the Black Freedom Struggle in America (University of Florida Press, 2018).

Littlejohn has published more than a dozen articles with his co-author Charles H. Ford, including: "'In the Best American Tradition of Freedom, We Defy You': The Radical Partnership of Joseph Jordan, Edward Dawley, and Leonard Holt," Journal of African American History (2021); “Historian and Activist: Joseph Lynn Clark and the Texas Commission on Interracial Cooperation,” East Texas Historical Journal (Winner of the 2020 C.K. Chamberlain Award for the best article appearing in the 2019 East Texas Historical Journal); and, “The Cabiness Family Lynching: Race, War, and Memory in Walker County, Texas,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly (Winner of the 2019 H. Bailey Carroll Award for the Best Article in the 2018 Southwestern Historical Quarterly and the 2018 Special Award for Research and Writing on Texas in World War I from the Texas State Historical Association).

Littlejohn also works as an active digital/public historian. His co-curricular projects include: Lynching in Texas; East Texas History; and Historical MX. These websites, his podcast Living History, and his other projects (The Underground Railroad in Virginia, The Brown Decision in Norfolk, Virginia, and Democracy and Diversity in Walker County, Texas) have been funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, Humanities Texas, Norfolk State University, Sam Houston State University, and other organizations.

Littlejohn lives with his wife, Mary, and son, Brant, in Spring, Texas. He can be reached on the web at:

Panelist: Sharlene Sinegal-DeCuir, Xavier University of Louisiana
Dr. Sharlene Sinegal-DeCuir is the Keller Family Endowed Associate Professor of History at Xavier University of Louisiana. She earned her Ph.D. in American History from Louisiana State University with concentrations in African-American and Latin American history. Throughout her academic career, she has focused on the New South period through the Civil Rights Movement, with particular interest on African American activism in Louisiana. Dr. Sinegal-DeCuir teaches courses in African American History, including Slavery and Servitude, U. S. Civil Rights Movement, and Hip Hop and Social Justice. She has worked in the field of public history and been featured on MSNBC, History News Network, has been quoted in the New York Times and published a New York Times Op-Ed article, as well as interviews by local news and radio media and the podcast titled Sticky Wicked: Louisiana Politics and the Press. She has written several articles, one of her most noted ones being published in The Journal of African-American History titled, “Nothing Is To Be Feared: Norman C. Francis, Civil Rights Activism, And The Black Catholic Movement.” She currently serves as a committee member for the American Historical Association, Nominations Committee and Committee on Minority Historians, Louisiana Civil Rights Trail Site Review Committee, and is a board member for the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities and the Louisiana Supreme Court Historic Society. Dr. Sinegal-DeCuir was recently named the chair of the Helis Foundation John Scott Center and was awarded a $500,000 Andrew W. Mellon Grant to create the African American and African Diasporic Cultural Studies Major at Xavier University of Louisiana. In addition, Dr. Sinegal-DeCuir serves as History Department Chair, Vice President of Faculty Association and is the 2021 recipient of the Xavier University of Louisiana Norman C. Francis Faculty Excellence Award in Teaching.