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Associate Dean, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Thomas Willis Lambeth Distinuished Chair, Department of Public Policy
(919) 962-2438
Alumni Building 305B

Research Interests

My current research interests concern blackness and freedom; place identities; black-identified communities and history, and rural transformations. Geographically, my work has focused in the Caribbean and the United States.

Research Background

For the past fifteen years, I have been studying communities known as black towns, the U.S. settlements dating back to the late 19th century that were established to provide freedom and security to people of African descent. The common narrative about black towns is that, economically and socially, they thrived during the Jim Crow era. My research pushes back on the idea that the significance of black towns’ is what they were and not what they are. In my book, Black Towns, Black Futures: The Enduring Allure of a Black Place in the American West (University of North Carolina Press, 2019), I explore what it means to be a black-identified, racially-defined small town in the twenty-first century, highlighting the complexities associated with the contemporary attraction of historic black towns in the Western U.S. Black Towns, Black Futures demonstrates the active and complex regard for black towns as historically remarkable places but also contemporarily modern, American, and racially-distinct spaces of black sociality that are simultaneously confronting small town life in a neoliberal economy.

Pursuing my broader interest in black communities, I am the co-creator of #TulsaSyllabus, a resource guide that centers sources on the Tulsa race massacre of 1921, as well as related themes such as racial terror and black placemaking in Oklahoma and the United States. Additionally, I am part of a new project, Mapping Black Towns, to develop a digital, interactive map representing the significance and transformation in blackness, place, freedom and security. An interdisciplinary and team project, I am working with colleagues in geography, planning, archaeology and history to create a map that displays the historical development and social and economic transformation of towns created for the support of people of African descent since the early 19th century.

Through my work at the Institute of African American Research, I am also co-organizer of a major conference facilitating an exchange of expert knowledge about black communities from the perspective of black community residents and academic scholars. Now in its second run, Black Communities: A Conference for Collaboration, fosters community-engaged research partnerships, between universities and communities, about and in support of black community life. At IAAR, I am also leading Student Learning to Advance Truth and Equity (IAAR-SLATE), a program to augment undergraduate understanding of race, racism and racial equity


PhD, University of Florida

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