By Andrea Plaid
On my Twitter Bucket List–stuff that I want to do with some of the incredible people I follow on it before I die–a couple of things I wanted to do are get on the bumper cars with historian Blair L.M. Kelley and do brunch with a couple of other women I admired. Professor Kelley responded:
“Hey, I want brunch, too!;)”
It is this brunch/bumper car combo that get the good professor the loved-up for the week. OK, not just those things…
Professor Kelley, like her best friend, Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry, took to the ‘net to think out loud with larger communities outside of the classrooms of North Carolina State University, be they on her own blog, on Blacking It Up, or in Twitterville. Encouraged by colleague Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, her moving her teaching to the online streets, she recollects, was actually frowned upon by her professional circles…at first:
When I first started blogging, I think it was Marc [Lamont Hill] who was one of the first people to ask me to blog before I got tenure. And I said no because I knew how it would be received…and my colleagues hate my Twitter feed, they hate what I do in terms of [sic] the value of discussion. Then I got on Keith Olbermann, and then they were all like [in perky voice],”What’s this Twitter?”
While doing this work in these larger communities–which includes posts for Salon. com and The Grio–she also wrote the book, Right to Ride, about the history of Black people’s activism in the US between what she calls “the great movements towards change,” Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement:
[A]s an undergrad [at the University of Virginia], I thought, “Well, OK, that’s nice, but what happened in between? Did those people just not care about their circumstances? Or, do we just not know what happened? Or, was it because they weren’t successful? Or, because we don’t remember?” It’s been sort of these fundamental questions that I’ve had in the back of my mind as a student going through school, and as I read more, I became more interested in the turn of the century and the Plessy [v. Ferguson] case. (Source)
What did she find out in her research?
It was a difficult time period to write about because it was so serious and so awful as a lived experience. It was the age of lynching and such extreme racial violence—so much so that none of us could imagine walking outside of our homes or offices and seeing someone hanging in a tree. But the people I write about did and could and had to prepare themselves [for] that. It’s sad, but at the same time, [there are] people that you can really truly admire for trying to make change. And it gives us courage about our own times. If you want to see change happen, at least we’re not in the most horrible circumstances. They achieved, and they accomplished, and they were fighting on anyway. That’s inspiration, even though it doesn’t look like a traditional inspiration.
Seeing the behind the scenes organizing with the Plessy case was one of the things that really caught me by surprise. The degree to which this is a contested community-based argument ends up being so iconic in the law and a really rich story behind the scenes. That was very exciting to find. There were figures [involved], particularly black women, who most people have never heard of. There were women like Elizabeth Jennings, who basically was the Rosa Parks of her time. Another person who hasn’t been talked about was Magdalena Walker in Richmond, Va. Many people knew because of her very successful bank—a black-owned bank during that time period—that still exists today. She was also an activist, and discovering that side of her was really exciting. Another: J. Max Barber, who was a young journalist, became the voice of this entire streetcar boycott movement. Getting to know them was really, really fun. It sort of was [like] resurrecting new stories. (Source)
The good professor was rewarded for this passionate interest in, as some of us Black folks affectionately call our “fictive kin,” The People: She received 2010 Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Book Award from the Association of Black Women Historians for Right To Ride. And her Twitter feed, where we get to see her love for teaching and us people (in the widest, most humanistic sense possible) in real time, got props from For Harriet for being one of the most inspiring Black women on Twitter.
To call Professor Kelley a public intellectual, however, gives her pause. As she said to a academic colleague on said micorblogging site a few days ago:
I hope you know I was critical of the idea of being [sic] a public intellectual. And I’m not an activist. I teach, research, and write black history to as many audiences as I can. [A]nd I damn sure don’t have a publicist. I couldn’t pay them if I did. I’m here for the love of what I do…
And we at the R love her for loving what she does and does well. And the fact that she’s down with brunch and bumper cars makes her extra crush-worthy.