Teaching Position: Associate Professor, Department of History, Case Western Reserve University, 2004-present.
Area of Research: African-American history, Black Women’s history, Urban history.
Education: Ph.D., History, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, May 1998.
Major Publications: Williams is the author of The Politics of Public Housing: Black Women’s Struggles Against Urban Inequality (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004). Inaugural book in interdisciplinary series, Transgressing Boundaries: Studies in Black Politics and Black Communities, with special co-editors Cathy Cohen and Fred Harris. She is the co-editor of Teaching the American Civil Rights Movement: Freedom’s Bittersweet Song with Julie Armstrong, Susan Hult, Houston Roberson (New York: Routledge), September 2002. Williams is also the co-editor with Karen Sotiropoulos of Women, Transnationalism and Human Rights, Special Issue of the Radical History Review 101 (forthcoming, Spring 2008). Williams is currently working on the book manuscripts The Dope Wars: Street-Level Hustling and the Culture of Drugs in Post-1940s Urban America
Williams is also the author of numerous scholarly journal articles, book chapters and reviews including among others: “Nonviolence and Long Hot Summers: Welfare Rights Struggles in the 1960s,” Nonviolent Relationality: Rethinking Gandhi in the World for Orient Longman’s new series on “Gandhi Studies” (forthcoming); “Race, Dismantling the “Ghetto,” and Housing Mobility: Considering the Polikoff Proposal,” Northwestern Journal of Law and Social Policy, Vol. 1, Issue 1, Summer 2006; “Black Women, Urban Politics, and Engendering Black Power,” The Black Power Movement: Rethinking the Civil Rights-Black Power Era, edited by Peniel E. Joseph (New York, Routledge, 2006); “Nonviolence and Long Hot Summers: Welfare Rights Struggles in the 1960s” for Borderlands E-Journal, Vol 4, No. 3, 2005; “Raising the Curtain: Performance, History, and Pedagogy,” Teaching the American Civil Rights Movement; “We’re Tired of Being Treated Like Dogs: Poor Women and Power Politics,” The Black Scholar, Special Edition on Black Power Studies: A New Scholarship, Fall/Winter 2001, 31-41.
Awards: Williams is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
Student Government’s Undergraduate Teaching Excellence Award for the Arts and Humanities, CWRU, 2004;
Postdoctoral Research Leave Fellowship, American Association of University Women American Educational Foundation, July 2002-June 2003;
Nominee for the Carl F. Wittke Award, University-wide Undergraduate Teaching Excellence Award, Case Western Reserve University, Spring 2001 & Spring 2000;
W.P. Jones Presidential Faculty Development Fund Award, CWRU, supported research and travel, Fall 2000;
Nominee for the Undergraduate Teaching Excellence Award, Undergraduate Student Government, CWRU, Spring 1999;
Selected to appear in the Undergraduate Viewbook, featuring faculty and students. (Outstanding undergraduates nominated faculty members.) Undergraduate Admissions Office, CWRU, Summer 1999. Have appeared in each subsequent publication through 2002;
Glennan Teaching Fellowship, University Center for Innovation in Teaching and Education (UCITE), CWRU, 1999-2000;
Fellow, W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, Harvard University: National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute, “Teaching the Southern Civil Rights Movement, 1865-1965,” Summer 1998. Invitation Accepted;
Mellon Dissertation Fellowship, 1996-1997;
Fontaine Fellowship, 1992-1996;
Graduate/Professional Student Outstanding Achievement Award, Women of Color Day, 1995;
Malcolm X Outstanding Service to the African-American Community, Black Graduate and Professional Student Association (BGAPSA), 1994;
Paul Robeson Academic Excellence and Leadership, BGAPSA, 1994;
Graduation Commencement Speaker, UMCP, First black speaker in the University’s history, 1989.
Williams is also Program Faculty, Ethnic Studies Program, 2003-present, Steering Committee Member, 2003-2005, and Program Faculty, Women Studies, 2000 – present at Case Western University.
In 1985, I headed off to college at the University of Maryland College Park without any idea that I would eventually earn a PhD. The daughter of federal government employees, I would be the first person in my immediate family to earn a bachelor’s degree. After my freshman year I knew I wanted to be a writer and somehow make a living doing it, and was fortunate to earn an internship at the Baltimore Evening Sun. I was supposed to be primarily an editor’s gopher, but thankfully I met newspaper reporters who mentored me. One gave me one of my first in-the-field assignments: I had to cover a story about a community program in the “projects” – residential places in inner cities held in disdain and fear. When I think back on that moment, I sometimes wonder whether I showed trepidation, or had the reporter simply felt the need to assure me (a young, green journalism student) that I would both be safe and do fine. Once we arrived at the public housing complex, I met black mothers, including teen parents, who were raising families with limited resources and navigating austere and neglected neighborhoods. This assignment eventually led to my visiting, and writing about, a neighborhood and church-based parenting enrichment program that served primarily black teen mothers and a few teen fathers.
Two more newspaper internships (including one with the New York Times) and three years later, I graduated UMCP as the first black undergraduate to receive its highest honor of salutatorian and commencement speaker in its 187-year history. That same year, 1989, I began my career as a night-time general assignment reporter. But I soon discovered, that overall, the daily new events I was assigned (including dog shows and numerous weather stories, not on the Hurricane Katrina level of importance) failed to elicit my excitement or fulfill my vision of engaging in useful intellectual inquiry. I had promised myself that in five years maximum I would go back to school, or if I did not like my job in two to three years. So in 1991 at the two-year mark, I decided to seek a PhD in History. After a couple years as a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania and always a native daughter of Baltimore, I resolved to focus my research on housing policy and marginalized people’s struggles in my hometown, particularly those of poor African American women.
My first book, The Politics of Public Housing: Black Women’s Struggles against Urban Inequality, and many of my subsequent articles, owe themselves to that moment in 1986 – alongside, of course, other intervening experiences (for as historians know there are always multiple shaping influences) – that launched me on a compelling journey. It was, and still is, a historical (and, for me, professional and personal) journey that has exposed decades of entrenched and systemic race, gender, and economic inequality; institutional intransigence; misanthropy and societal disgust; human impotence, pain, and fortitude; and intense struggle and magnificent gumption. Listen to Goldie Baker, a public housing and welfare rights activist who died in 2006 after over 40 years of social struggle. She took seriously challenging those in power – no matter their race. And because of that “they thought I was one crazy nigger. They wasn’t used to that [laughs]. Oh, believe me, they wasn’t used to no nigger talking to them … like that”!
My next book project on street-level hustling, illicit narcotics, and urban culture after World War II is taking me on another overlapping journey – one where men and women found money, escape, pleasure, death, ‘freedom,’ and misery in a society that policed the boundaries of opportunity, morality, and belonging, in a society constituted by hierarchies and dreams of possibility. I don’t know where this particular scholarly journey ultimately will land me, but I do know (and am still discovering) the numerous places that the illicit (and licit) high has landed the many people that I’ve known personally and am now meeting historically.
By Rhonda Y. Williams
About Rhonda Y. Williams