Rhonda Y. Williams
John L. Seigenthaler Chair in American History, Vanderbilt University
Visiting Professor 2019-2020
Hosted by Professor Craig Wilder, Department of History
Rhonda Y. Williams is a historian of low-income black women’s and marginalized people’s experiences, everyday lives, politics, and social struggles. Her research contributes to the rethinking of gender, political identity, citizenship, civil rights, black liberation struggles, and interactions with the U.S. state.s the author of the award-winning The Politics of Public Housing: Black Women's Struggles against Urban Inequality (2004) and Concrete Demands: The Search for Black Power in the 20th Century (2015). She is the author of numerous articles and essays, including the forthcoming book chapter titled “Women, Gender, Race, and the Welfare State” in the Oxford Handbook for Women’s and Gender History, co-edited by Lisa Materson and Ellen Hartigan-O’Connor. Williams is also the co-editor of the book series Justice, Power, and Politics at the University of North Carolina Press and is co-editor of Teaching the American Civil Rights Movement.
She joined the faculty of Vanderbilt University from Case Western Reserve University where she was faculty in the History Department, established and directed the Postdoctoral Fellowship in African American Studies, and founded and directed the university-wide Social Justice Institute.
Honored by the History News Network as a Top Young Historian, Williams is a recipient of an American Association of University Women Postdoctoral Fellowship, a former Harvard University W.E.B. Du Bois Institute Fellow, an Organization of American Historians’ Distinguished Lecturer, and is a life member of the Association of Black Women Historians.
She is listed in the 2009, 2015, and 2017 editions of Who's Who in Black Cleveland. Known by many as “Dr. Rhonda,” Williams engaged in numerous community efforts as a resident of Cleveland, including on police and criminal justice reform as a member of the Collaborative for a Safe, Fair, and Just Cleveland, the “Cleveland 8,” and a Co-Chair and Commissioner on the Cleveland Community Police Commission, which was empaneled in September 2015. She has appeared on MSNBC and Democracy Now!, and is from Baltimore.
Rhonda Y. Williams
Transgressing Boundaries: Studies in Black Politics and Black Communities
Oxford University Press, 2004
In this collective biography, Rhonda Y. Williams takes us behind, and beyond, politically expedient labels to provide an incisive and intimate portrait of poor black women in urban America. Drawing on dozens of interviews, Williams challenges the notion that low-income housing was a resounding failure that doomed three consecutive generations of post-war Americans to entrenched poverty. Instead, she recovers a history of grass-roots activism, of political awakening, and of class mobility, all facilitated by the creation of affordable public housing. The stereotyping of black women, especially mothers, has obscured a complicated and nuanced reality too often warped by the political agendas of both the left and the right, and has prevented an accurate understanding of the successes and failures of government anti-poverty policy.