Blair L.M. Kelley wins the 2010 Letitia Woods Book Award for Right To Ride

One of these people is not an award-winning book author. Left to right: Rebecca Skloot, your blogger, and Blair L.M. Kelley. Taken at the Mini-Symposium on African-American Science and Medicine at North Carolina Central University, 23 March 2010. Photo credit: Brian Culbreath.

I received wonderful news yesterday that my North Carolina State University history colleague, Dr. Blair Kelley, is the recipient of the 2010 Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Book Award from the Association of Black Women Historians for her book Right to Ride: Streetcar Boycotts and African American Citizenship in the Era of Plessy v. Ferguson.

Her publisher, UNC Press, has a nice write-up on the award together with this statement from one of the award panel members:

This book offers a crucial corrective to the history of African American protest against discrimination on public transportation. With her thorough research, Kelley dramatically reframes what has been assumed to be the period of black protest in this area. I applaud her for the way in which she consciously wrote women into the history of what has been a predominately male narrative grounded by Plessy v. Ferguson. Not only is she successful in proving that women were often front and center in the larger fight against this site of discrimination but offers a compelling explanation as to why they had their own gendered rationale for their protest. I also appreciated her discussion of class and challenge to the dominant positions that streetcar protests reflected middle class concerns.

I’m really fortunate to share the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill academic community with Professor Kelley, but we actually first met via Twitter (Blair is a must-follow @profblmkelley). In fact, Blair was named last month among The 100 Most Inspiring Black Women on Twitter by the blog, For Harriet:

Even when she’s bombarded with the tweets of angry extremists, @Profblmkelley takes the time to calmly and elegantly provide historical perspective on contemporary debates.

Last March, I invited her to join us at North Carolina Central University for a mini-symposium on African-American History in Science and Medicine coincident with a visit by New York Times-bestselling writer, Rebecca Skloot, author of this year’s wildly popular book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

Professor Kelley presented a fantastic original paper on attitudes toward the Black woman’s body in medical history. Her account was both emotionally moving and an impeccable scholarly work, one that I hope she publishes in a medical humanities journal. Skloot noted that she’d never had her own book talk so elegantly framed in any other previous program.

Professor Kelley is not just a scholar but is an emerging national presence on racism and African-American history, writing for Salon.com with articles on Rand Paul’s 1891 stance on segregation and Harry Reid’s comments about President Obama’s skin color earlier this year. It’s only a matter of time before Blair breaks onto the national news show scene like her mentor, Princeton University professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell.

Congratulations, Professor Kelley, on this well-deserved recognition!

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