Associate Professor of African American History
Amy has conducted oral histories with welfare rights activists and small farmers in Mississippi, and has conducted workshops on the history of anti-poverty and welfare rights activism. Her essay, "Fighting for the Child Development Group of Mississippi: Poor People, Local Politics and the Complicated Legacy of Head Start," is part of a forthcoming collection entitled War on Poverty & Struggles for Racial and Economic Justice. She is currently working on a book entitled From Rural Rehabilitation to Welfare Rights: Rural Relief, Land Ownership and Welfare Rights Activism in Mississippi.
Amy also studies West African dance and performs occasionally with the New Haven based companies, Kouffin Kanecke Dance Company and the Fotoba Dance Troupe.
This course will focus on the emergence of African American Working-Class Movements in the late 19th and 20th Centuries. We will explore multiple dimensions of working class lives, including social and cultural practices, work and communal cultures as well as the broad range of organizing campaigns in service, industrial and agricultural work. We will examine activism in both rural and urban sites. The readings will provide critical perspectives on how class, educational status, and gender shaped the formation, goals, leadership styles and strategies of various movements. Some of the movements include the late nineteenth century washerwomen strike in Atlanta, the Sharecroppers Union in Alabama, the cross-regional efforts of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and the League of Revolutionary Workers in Detroit. By extending our exploration over the course of the twentieth century, we explore organizing traditions in depth and consider their long-term impact on African-American political activism and community life.
This course combines West African dance classes with discussion-based classes on the cultural and social history of Guinea. Musicians will provide live drumming for each class. Students will explore West African aesthetics that shape the music and dance traditions of Guinea. In most classes, students will dance to traditional rhythms of Guinea. In discussion classes, we will explore footage of historic performances, and read recent scholarship on the role that national dance companies, such as Les Ballets Africains, played in the anti-colonial, revolutionary nationalist politics of Guinea. The literature will include broader social histories of the struggle for independence as well as cultural analysis of recurring themes, such as debates about authenticity and modernity. We will discuss the ways in which dance figured into the forging of national identities during the Independence era and consider how these projects in self-making evolved over time as the challenges of the post-colonial era constrained and informed the possibilities for such a project.
The fight for equity in education is one of the most critical and enduring themes in the African American struggle to fully exercise their citizenship rights. This course will explore the ways in which local African American communities fought to create educational spaces for their children and for future generations. The class will begin with the dynamic struggle of Boston's African American community to desegregate public education during the pre-civil war decade and trace the varied strategies of educational leaders to broaden educational opportunities through the Reconstruction, Jim Crow and Civil Rights/Black Power eras. Readings will uncover hidden strategies for strengthening the academic programs in segregated Black schools, and increasing access to secondary and post secondary education available to Black students. The second half of the course will explore more overt strategies for educational advancement, such as the student led boycotts of the 1950s and 1960s and local campaigns to shape the desegregation process. By exploring a range of critical perspectives on black educational history as well as primary sources, students will begin to identify specific research questions and develop their own research agenda. This course will require students to become familiar with resource materials found in the library research databases and in the W.E. B. Dubois Special Collection located at UMASS.
The question of how to resist, survive and challenge retaliatory violence directed against African American communities has always been central to the history of African decedents in the U.S. The extent to which the active role of women had been central to this history has been rarely acknowledged. This course will explore the struggles of African American women to defend the integrity of their own bodies; these struggles include the fight against everyday insults embedded in the daily indignities of Jim Crow; the efforts of enslaved women to protect themselves and their children, as well as collective organizing against rape and sexual harassment in the early and mid-twentieth century. One example we will explore is the story of Margaret Garner, the real life, nineteenth century heroine whose story was the inspiration for Toni Morrison's Beloved. We will also explore recent scholarship that centers the fight to protect the integrity of black women's bodies and reshapes how we understand African American social movements. Course materials will include biographies, fiction, interviews and social movement studies.
Recently, several states including New York, Massachusetts and California have passed Domestic Workers Bill of Rights legislation. This legislation establishes clear standards for defining the length of the workday, the right to sick days and maternity leave as well as appropriate rest and meal breaks. These recent victories bode well for future organizing efforts, but also draw inspiration from historical movements of domestic, laundry and hospital workers. Labor organizers have often overlooked the plight of domestic workers by arguing that their work in private homes made them impossible to organize. This course will explore the history of domestic workers, the efforts of scholars to document their struggle and the ongoing effort to make domestic work visible and included within existing legal frameworks for providing basic protections for workers. Throughout the semester, we will ask the question: why the domestic sphere and care work were often considered outside of the realm of rights claims, even by labor organizers? The last section of the course will focus on current campaigns to expand domestic and service worker rights and pay particular attention to the impact of home health care worker campaigns on public sector workers' rights.