Ashley D. Dennis F'21

Ashley D. Dennis
Doctoral Candidate
African American Studies
Northwestern University

Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships 2021
Doctoral Candidate
African American Studies
Northwestern University
The Intellectual Emancipation of the Negro: The Thought and Activism of Black Women Educators during the Mid-Twentieth Century

This dissertation examines how and why Black women teachers, librarians, and authors promoted Black history and culture to children. First, it redefines what types of sources contain intellectual ideas, what forms of work constitute intellectual production, and who can wear the mantle “intellectual.” Second, it de-centers school desegregation within histories of education and civil rights by focusing on black women educators’ efforts to integrate learning and recreational materials for children. Third, it eschews the “great man” theory in its attention to women and their professional networks. This project argues that the range of texts they wrote, the library collections they assembled, and the exhibits about African Americans they curated are significant forms of intellectual production. It argues that Black women educators catalyzed a nationwide re-evaluation of library collections. Even as they felt constrained to offer an optimistic portrait of gradually integrating the United States, they laid crucial groundwork for the Black freedom struggle and rise of multicultural education in the US.