College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Shawn Leigh Alexander, PhD

International & Interdisciplinary Studies - African/African American Studies
Associate Professor
Primary office:
785-864-5044
Bailey Hall
Room 15
University of Kansas
1440 Jayhawk Boulevard
Lawrence, KS 66045


Shawn Leigh Alexander, who received his PhD from the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in 2004, is an Associate Professor of African and African American Studies and the director of the Langston Hughes Center at the University of Kansas. His area of research concentration is African American social and intellectual history of the 19th and 20th Centuries.

Professor Alexander is the author of An Army of Lions: The Struggle for Civil Rights before the NAACP (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012) and W. E. B. Du Bois: An American Intellectual and Activist (Roman and Littlefield, 2015). He has also edited an anthology of T. Thomas Fortune's writings, T. Thomas Fortune, the Afro-American Agitator (University Press of Florida, 2008), a collection on the racial violence after the civil war, Reconstruction Violence and the Ku Klux Klan Hearings (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2015), and written the Introduction to a reprint of William Sinclair's classic 1905 study, The Aftermath of Slavery: A Study of the Condition and Environment of the American Negro (University of South Carolina Press, 2012). Additionally, he has authored many scholarly articles and book chapters on early African American civil rights activity and black intellectual history. Currently he is working on a history of the NAACP in the 1930s as well as an anthology of Booker T. Washington's writings.

Prior to joining the University of Kansas, Professor Alexander taught at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst College, Gettysburg College, and Yale University, where he was the first Cassius Marcellus Clay Fellow (2005-2007) in the Department of History.

Teaching

Teaching students is a central part of my development as an academic. I have a passion for African American History and African American Studies and I thoroughly enjoy sharing that passion with my students in the classroom. In designing my courses, I have relied heavily on an interdisciplinary approach, drawing from a variety of sources, including primary documents, secondary literature, music, fiction, poetry, and film. My approach to history is from a social, intellectual, and cultural perspective, but in the classroom while teaching material “from the bottom up,” I always seek to contextualize social and cultural history within larger social, economic, intellectual, and political currents.

In my years of teaching I have tried to keep two things in mind: first, that the coverage of historical facts is crucial, and second, that it is important to teach students the skills to do something with the information that they are learning. Therefore, as important as the teaching of the historical record is, it is equally as important to teach students skills, such as research and writing. In my experience I have found that students learn these skills best through an interactive teaching style that demands their participation and challenges their abilities.

Teaching Interests

  • African American History from Reconstruction to the Present
  • Nineteenth and Twentieth Century American and African American History
  • African American Intellectual History
  • Slavery--United States
  • Slavery--Caribbean
  • Slavery--Africa
  • Civil War
  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Black Power Movement
  • African American Women's History
  • African American literature
  • African History
  • Social Movements
  • Twentieth Century World History
  • Pan-Africanism

Research

My research redefines our understanding of African American social and intellectual history in the 19th and 20th centuries. My major interests are in African American post-emancipation social and cultural history, racial ideologies and social movements, and organizational history. In my work I examine the various ideologies held by African Americans in the 19th and 20th centuries and trace how blacks organized around these ideologies to struggle against the racial status quo. This research contributes to our conception of the African American liberation movements, the “long civil rights movement,” and American history in general by recontextualizing the way we discuss and think about African America’s struggle for justice, freedom, and equality in the United States.

My research agenda has yielded five books, as well as a number of articles, blogs, and other publications. My books include, T. Thomas Fortune the Afro-American Agitator, a collection of T. Thomas Fortune’s writings, restored Fortune to his central place in African American thought and activism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. An Army of Lions: The Civil Rights Struggle Before the NAACP, the first full study on both the local and national levels of black civil rights organizations that led to the creation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909. A biography of W. E. B. Du Bois, W. E. B. Du Bois: An American Intellectual and Activist, which traces the development of his thought over time, beginning with his formative years in New England and ending with his death in Ghana. A collection on racial violence, Reconstruction Violence and the Ku Klux Klan Hearings: A Brief History with Documents, which uses the Klan hearings of 1871-72 to not only provide a historical record of the victims and perpetrators of this reign of terror, but also a window into the story of Reconstruction and post Civil War America. Finally a reprint of William Sinclair’s The Aftermath of Slavery, a classic account of the failures of Reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow and critical examination of African American resistance to the rise of white supremacy and the foundation for some of W. E. B. Du Bois’s research in his 1935 Black Reconstruction.

At this time I am beginning to write a history of the NAACP during the 1930s. My research project will look at the organization from the 1929 Judge Parker incident to the end of World War II, demonstrating the central importance of this period in the NAACP’s development. At the same time I am assembling an anthology of Booker T. Washington's writings. Together all of my projects continue my research in African American social and intellectual history, examining the various ideologies held by black Americans in the 19th and 20th centuries and tracing how they organized around these ideologies to struggle against America’s system of racial apartheid. As a collection, this work greatly adds to our conception of the African American liberation movements and African American and American history in general, as well as contributes to other scholarship that is working to redefine the way we think about African America’s struggle for justice, freedom, and equality in the United States.

Research Interests

  • African American History from Reconstruction to the Present
  • Nineteenth and Twentieth Century American and African American History
  • African American Intellectual History
  • Slavery--United States
  • Civil War
  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Black Power Movement
  • African American Women's History
  • African American Literature
  • African History
  • Social Movements
  • Twentieth Century World History
  • Pan-Africanism

Mid-America Alliance for African Studies (MAAAS) Fall 2017 Conference


The Kansas African Studies Center has received $140,000 in funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities to launch public discussions, community programming, and the creation of educational resources in local communities to discuss the challenges and opportunities surrounding recent demographic changes in the region. Visit www.migrationstories.ku.edu to learn more. 

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