Award-Winning Historian Speaks at IC

By Maya Greenberg ’20, November 12, 2019
Jacquelyn Dowd Hall lectured about sisters engaged in early civil rights activism.

National Humanities Medal-winning author and historian Jacquelyn Dowd Hall delivered a lecture at Ithaca College on October 30 as part of the Distinguished Speaker in the Humanities Lecture Series. Her lecture was named for her newly released book, “Sisters and Rebels: A Struggle for the Soul of America.”

The Julia Cherry Spruill Professor Emerita at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Hall is an expert on U.S. women’s history and southern history. She has authored numerous books, including as “Revolt Against Chivalry: Jessie Daniel Ames and the Women’s Campaign Against Lynching” and “Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World.”

Hall’s latest book follows the lives of Elizabeth, Katherine and Grace Lumpkin, three sisters who were born into a former slave owning family and steeped in devotion to white supremacy and the Confederacy’s “Lost Cause.” Katherine and Grace ultimately broke from their background to participate in civil rights activism in 1930s New York City and Massachusetts.

“Social changes don’t come about from above,” Hall said. “They occur when more people begin to think and organize their lives differently, and feel differently.”

Brendan Murday, associate dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, said that lecturers like Hall allow students to “recognize multiple perspectives” and connect history to today’s world. “We really want to promote the relevance of the humanities,” he said.

That relevance was readily apparent to history student Hannah Fry ’23, who is taking a one-credit history course on Hall’s book. “I’ve never learned so much about southern history,” she said. “To hear it in this light is very interesting, especially with race issues today.”

Tristan Berlet ’22, a history and theater studies student, appreciated the emphasis on narrative in Hall’s work. “This is the area of history that I love the best — the storytelling aspect, the people involved,” he said. “It’s fascinating tracking these women throughout their lives in one of the most vital times of the country’s history.”