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 explore the organizing efforts of African-Americans during the twentieth century. We will examine activism in both rural and urban sites and in cross-class, middle-class and working-class organizations. The readings will provide critical perspectives on how class, educational status, and gender shape the formation, goals, leadership styles and strategies of various movements. Some of the movements include the lobbying and writing of Ida B. Wells, the cross-regional efforts of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and the post-WWII radical union movement in Detroit and the local 1199 hospital workers union movement in New York. By extending our exploration over the course of the twentieth century, we will trace the development of various organizing traditions and consider their long-term impact on African-American political activism and community life. A perspective that consistently engages the ways in which African Americans respond and locate themselves within larger global transformations will provide an important frame for our discussions.
African American dance and music traditions have played a critical role in the African-American struggle to sustain its humanity--- to express joy and pain corporeally and through a particular relationship to rhythm. This class will explore the forms, contents and contexts of black traditions that played a crucial role in shaping American dance; looking to how expressive cultural forms from the African diaspora have been transferred from the social space to the concert stage. Viewing American cultural history through the lens of movement and performance, we will begin with an exploration of social dance during slavery and the late nineteenth century when vibrant social dances insisted that black bodies, generally relegated to long hours of strenuous labor, devote themselves to pleasure as well. The bulk of the course will focus on black protest traditions in discerning how the cakewalking of Ada Overton and George Walker; proto-feminist singing of Bessie Smith; stair-tapping dances of Bill Robinson, protest and resistive choreographies of Katherine Dunham, Pearl Primus, and Urban Bush Women, and hip-hop performances of Rennie Harris can be viewed as corporeal embodiments of the centuries-long freedom struggle-- whether non-violent, confrontational or contestational-- and how these modes of performance reflect an increasing independent free black voice demanding equal inclusion in the body politic. This course will provide a strong foundation for students who want to pursue Black Studies and will acquaint students with methodologies utilized in performance and historical studies.
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 anticolonial, evolutionary 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 forgoing 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.
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 work day, 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. 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. 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.
This course was designed to help students think critically about how historical narratives are constructed. Biographies provide a compelling way to examine historical questions, debates and ways of attaching meaning to broader historical developments. They offer a critical entry-point into constructing narratives that reflect the range and complexity of African American lived experiences. This course will focus on the ways in which biographies enrich our understanding of migrations, radical organizing, the building of institutions, intellectual and political cultures while also gaining a glimpse into the everyday texture of life in African American Communities. Some figures, such as Paul Robeson and W.E.B. Dubois, achieved prominence as activists and intellectuals during their lifetime. Others accomplished a great deal as activists scholars but faded from our historical memory with time, such as Pauline Hopkins and Hubert Harrison. One source, a diary that chronicles the struggles of Richelene Mitchell, is an insightful critique of the politics of poverty written by a woman not well known outside of her community. We will pay particular attention to the sources and think carefully about the kinds of materials historians explore to construct a person's life. Letters, newspapers articles, diaries and oral interviews will provide opportunities for students to raise questions and to develop interpretations of the evidence. In other words, to think like an historian.
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 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.