Black Women and the Power of Biography

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

Friday, March 31, 2023, 10:30 AM - 12:00 PM

Type: Roundtable Discussion

Tags: African American; Biography/Memoir; Gender


New biographies of Black women are taking different forms, from unearthing the history of little-documented enslaved women to exploring the writings of Black women leaders, energizing the field through the exploration of their intersecting intellectual and personal lives. Alison Parker, Sheena Harris, Tyrone Freeman, Ashley Preston, Ashley Farmer, and Kate Larson discuss their biographies of the lives of Mary Church Terrell, clubwoman and civil rights activist; Margaret Murray Washington, clubwoman; Madam C. J. Walker, entrepreneur and philanthropist; Mary McLeod Bethune, clubwoman and educator; Queen Mother Audley Moore, reparations advocate; and Fannie Lou Hamer, civil rights movement leader.

Session Participants

Chair: Alison M. Parker, University of Delaware
Alison M. Parker is Chair & Richards Professor of American History at the University of Delaware. She has research and teaching interests in women’s and gender history, African American history, and legal history. Her biography, Unceasing Militant: The Life of Mary Church Terrell is part of the John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture of the University of North Carolina Press (2020). Among other publications, Parker is the author of two monographs, Articulating Rights: Nineteenth-Century American Women on Race, Reform, and the State (2010) and Purifying America: Women, Cultural Reform, and Pro-Censorship Activism, 1873-1933 (1997). In 2017-2018, Parker was an Andrew W. Mellon Advanced Fellow at the James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference at Emory University. She also serves as an editor of the Gender and Race in American History book series for the University of Rochester Press. As a co-chair of the University of Delaware’s Anti-Racism Initiative, Parker is helping to build a coalition of students, faculty, and staff promoting a wide-ranging anti-racism agenda.

Panelist: Ashley D. Farmer, The University of Texas at Austin
Dr. Ashley Farmer is a historian of black women's history, intellectual history, and radical politics. She is currently an Associate Professor in the Departments of History and African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era and a co-editor of New Perspectives on the Black Intellectual Tradition. Farmer's scholarship has appeared in numerous venues including The Black Scholar and The Journal of African American History. Her research has also been featured in several popular outlets including Vibe, NPR, The Chronicle Review and the Washington Post. Her current book Queen Mother Audley Moore: Mother of Black Nationalism, is the first full-length biography of Moore whose activist career spanned nearly seventy years.

Panelist: Tyrone McKinley Freeman Ph.D., Indiana University
Tyrone McKinley Freeman, Ph.D. serves as Associate Professor of Philanthropic Studies and Director of Undergraduate Programs at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, and an adjunct Associate Professor of Africana Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis. His research focuses on the history of African American and American philanthropy, philanthropy and fundraising in higher education, and philanthropy in communities of color. He works in the intersections between philanthropic studies, Africana studies and history. He holds an appointment as Research Associate at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. where he is collaborating with curators, archivists, and other historians on the “History of African American Fundraising Collecting Project” and a symposium on the “Origins of Philanthropy in America.” Previously, he was a professional fundraiser for social services, community development, and higher education organizations. He was also Associate Director of The Fund Raising School where he trained nonprofit leaders in the United States, Africa, Asia, and Europe. His latest book is entitled, Madam C.J. Walker’s Gospel of Giving: Black Women’s Philanthropy during Jim Crow (University of Illinois Press, 2020). It examines African American women’s history of charitable giving, activism, education, and social service provision through the life and example of Madam C.J. Walker, the early twentieth century Black philanthropist and entrepreneur. The book received the 2021 Association of Fundraising Professionals Global Skystone Partners Research Prize in Fundraising and Philanthropy, and the 2021 Terry McAdam Book Award from the Alliance for Nonprofit Management. Dr. Freeman’s work and contributions to the field of philanthropic studies has been recognized in several ways. His research has earned two awards from the Association of Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action including the 2020 Best Conference Paper Award, and the 2016 Gabriel Rudney Memorial Award for Outstanding Dissertation in Nonprofit and Voluntary Action. His teaching has earned two Indiana University Board of Trustees’ Teaching Awards and the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy’s Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award. In 2020, Indiana University inducted him into its prestigious Faculty Academy for Excellence in Teaching. His work has appeared or been cited in The New York Times, O: The Oprah Magazine, USA Today, TIME, Harvard Business Review, Stanford Social Innovation Review, NewsOne, The Conversation, Black Perspectives, Philanthropy Women, Chronicle of Philanthropy, CASE Currents, and Advancing Philanthropy. He is co-author of Race, Gender and Leadership in Nonprofit Organizations (Palgrave MacMillan, 2011). A proud HBCU grad, Tyrone earned a B.A. in English/Liberal Arts from Lincoln University (PA), a M.S. in Adult Education from Indiana University, a Master’s in Urban and Regional Planning from Ball State University, and a Ph.D. in Philanthropic Studies from Indiana University.

Panelist: Sheena Harris, West Virginia University
Dr. Sheena Harris earned her B.S. in Political Science and her M.A. in History from Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University. She received her Ph.D. in History from the University of Memphis. Dr. Harris joined the History Department at West Virginia University as a Woodburn Associate Professor and coordinator of the Africana Studies Program in the fall of 2021. Prior to joining WVU, she served as an Associate Professor of history and the Director of Student Engagement Initiatives at Tuskegee University. Her book, Margaret Murray Washington: The Life and Times of a Career Clubwoman (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2021) explores the political and public activism of Washington from 1861 to 1925. She is currently working on a monograph that critically examines the philanthropic influence of nineteenth century Black women on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Dr Harris also serves on the Editorial Board for “The Black Soldiers in the War and Society: New Narratives and Critical Perspectives,” series at The University of Virginia and is the National Membership Director for the Association of Black Women Historians (ABWH). In 2019 she appeared on the hit tv Show “Who Do You Think You Are” with actress Regina King. Dr. Harris is a United States Army Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and runs marathons in her free time.

Panelist: Kate Clifford Larson, Brandeis University
Kate Clifford Larson is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-selling author of critically acclaimed biographies, including Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero (Random House/One World 2004)—the first deeply researched full length biography of the American icon since 1943; Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter (HMHC 2015); and The Assassin's Accomplice: Mary Surratt and the Plot to Kill Abraham Lincoln (Basic Books, 2008). Her latest biography, Walk With Me: A Biography of Fannie Lou Hamer (Oxford University Press), explores the remarkable life of one of the nation's most important civil rights leaders of the 20th century. Walk has been praised for its fresh research and insights, earning significant commendation and named one of Kirkus Reviews' best biographies of 2021. Using recently opened FBI records, secret Oval Office tapes, new interviews, and more, Walk reveals relatively unknown details about how Hamer, a poor Mississippi sharecropper with a sixth-grade education, catapulted to the national civil rights movement stage of the 1960s. Dr. Larson earned BA and MA degrees from Simmons University and an MBA from Northeastern University before completing her doctorate in American History, specializing in 19th and 20th century U.S. Women's and African American history, at the University of New Hampshire. An historical consultant, Larson has worked on feature film scripts—including Focus Features' Harriet starring prize-winning Cynthia Erivo, and Robert Redford's The Conspirator—numerous documentaries, museum exhibits, curriculum guides, public history initiatives, heritage tourism products, and numerous publications. Her award-winning consulting includes Maryland’s Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State and National Monument and Park, the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway and All-American Road, and the Harriet Tubman Home and National Historical Park in Auburn, NY. She has appeared on local, national, and international media outlets, including the BBC, PBS, and C-Span, cable networks, podcasts, and CBS Sunday Morning. Dr. Larson is currently a Brandeis University Women’s Studies Research Center Visiting Scholar.

Panelist: Ashley Robertson Preston, Howard University
Dr. Ashley Robertson Preston is an author, curator, and Assistant Professor of History at Howard University. Her past positions include serving as director of the Mary McLeod Bethune Foundation-National Historic Landmark at Bethune-Cookman University while she also was an archives technician for the National Archives for Black Women’s History at the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House-National Historic Site. She is the author of Mary McLeod Bethune in Florida: Bringing Social Justice to the Sunshine State which examines how the educator rose to prominence while fighting for equality at the height or racial unrest in the state. Dr. Preston’s second book, which is under contract with the University of Florida Press, examines the international activism of Bethune, framing her as a Pan Africanist. She has published articles in the Journal of Negro Education, Journal of Black Studies and Journal of African American History. Dr. Preston's research interests focus on the activism of Black women during the early twentieth century and the ways in which they uplifted their communities, created institutions, and stood against systemic racism. In addition to her work as a historian she is also the founder of the nonprofit Carter G. Cares. Inspired by her son, who was born prematurely at 28 weeks, the organization raises awareness and provides support for NICU families and high-risk mothers.