Kidada E. Williams is an internationally recognized expert on African Americans' lived experiences of racist violence. Here at Wayne State, she teaches courses on African American and American history and historical research methods.
African American history was designed to reach the broadest possible audience so it has always had a public. Williams' embrace of this rich tradition informs her commitment to sharing her expertise widely. She started this work as a graduate student researching the Underground Railroad in Washtenaw County and co-creating a bus tour. She gives lectures and talks at public institutions including the Wright Museum, Detroit Historical Museum, the Henry Ford Museum, and America's Civil War Museum. She contributes to NEH Summer Seminars and Institutes, which help K-12 teachers broaden their understandings of U.S. history and develop new strategies for teaching challenging subject matter. She has appeared on PBS's award-winning series Reconstruction: America after the Civil War, NPR's "Morning Edition" and "On Point," WDET's "Detroit Today" with Stephen Henderson, and "BackStory with the American History Guys." Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, DAME, Slate, and Bridge Magazine.
Williams is also one of the co-developers of #CharlestonSyllabus, a crowd-sourced project that helped people understand the historical context surrounding the 2015 racial massacre at Charleston's Emanuel AME Church.
Lately, she has been extending her commitment to African American public humanities by sharing her expertise on survivors of anti-black violence on podcasts, like Scene on Radio's The Land That Has Never Been Yet, the Slate Academy history series on Reconstruction, Nocturne's As a Weapon and television series, like "Who Do You Think You Are?": Regina King. She is currently working on a really exciting project on the African Americans during Reconstruction. Someday, she hopes to produce short history audio documentaries and films on African American history. In the meantime, she is the host of Seizing Freedom, a forthcoming podcast telling the story of African Americans during Reconstruction.
Research interest(s)/area of expertise
African American History
History of Violence
Williams investigates African Americans and the palimpsest of trauma from racist violence after slavery. She is the author of They Left Great Marks on Me, which explores Black southerners’ testimonies of violence from emancipation to World War I. She has also published "Never Get Over It," "Maintaining a Radical Vision of African Americans in the Age of Freedom," "The Wounds that Cried Out," and "Regarding the Aftermaths of Lynching." Her research has been supported twice by fellowships from the Ford Foundation.
Williams is completing her second book, I Saw Death Coming, a new history of Reconstruction from the perspectives of African American families attacked by the Klan.
For her third project, the research for which is well under way, Williams is taking a temporary detour from her much-loved study of the 19th century Black South. She is investigating the recent history of rape in Detroit and activists' intrepid fight against it. Part passion project, part quest for justice, in "The Cost of Disbelief" she wants to understand how Michigan went from leading the nation in attempting to provide a degree of justice to victims who reported rape to so horribly failing the girls, boys, and women of Detroit. She hopes this work will facilitate discussions about redress and reforms that the larger community deems just.
When that is complete, she will return to her research on the postemancipation South and investigate, in no particular order a) African American fatherhood and father-love in the transitions from slavery to freedom through Jim Crow b) interpersonal violence in African American communities c) the fractal nature of racist violence.
Graduate Research Supervision
Williams would be interested in supervising graduate students who wish to work on any topic relating to her research interests and whose theoretical orientations align with hers regarding Black Feminist Thought, gender, the science of violence and trauma, and Black Studies. She also welcomes proposals relating to broader African American history.
Williams is best suited to supervise students who already have the makings of a historical research agenda--including a likely research question, an archive identified, and some knowledge of the historiography for the specific subject. Students wishing to learn more about how to craft a research agenda would do well to read and model the best research practices spelled out in Jules Benjamin's A Student's Guide to History and Wayne C. Booth et al, eds., The Craft of Research.
- Ph.D., University of Michigan, 2005
- M.A., Central Michigan University, 1998
- B.S., Central Michigan University, 1996
Awards and grants
Career Development Chair, Wayne State University, 2014
Board of Governors Faculty Recognition Award, Wayne State University, 2013
President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, Wayne State University, 2011
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Award for Teaching, Wayne State University, 2011
Humanities Center Faculty Fellowship Competition, Wayne State University, 2011
Ford Foundation Diversity Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2008
Eisenberg Institute for Historical Studies, “Topographies of Violence” Residency Research Grant, The University of Michigan, Fall 2008
Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship for Minorities, 2002
They Left Great Marks on Me: African American Testimonies of Racial Violence from Emancipation to World War I. New York University Press, 2012.
With Chad Williams and Keisha N. Blain, Charleston Syllabus: Readings on Race, Racism, and Racial Violence. University of Georgia Press, 2016.
A portion of the royalties will go to the Lowcountry Ministries Fund to address issues of social justice and economic empowerment in underserved communities in the South Carolina Lowcountry.
Articles and Chapters
"Never Get Over It: Night Riding's Imprint on Its African American Victims," in Reconstruction and the Arc of Racial (in)Justice Edward Elgar, 2018.
"Maintaining a Radical Vision of African Americans in the Age of Freedom," Journal of the Civil War Era 7:1 (2017).
"The Wounds that Cried Out: Reckoning with African Americans' Testimonies of Trauma and Suffering from Nightriding" in Gregory Downs and Kate Masur, eds. The World the Civil War Made. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015.
"Regarding the Aftermaths of Lynching," Journal of American History 101:4 (2014).
Select Public Scholarship and Appearances
Respectfully Yours, Gainer Atkins, BackStory Radio
With Danielle L. McGuire, Raped and left on the road, she said #MeToo. Jurors said, 'No, not You.' and Say Her Name. Shawana Hall. She is a Hero, Bridge Magazine
The Difference 10 Miles Makes, BackStory Radio
Centuries of Violence (on the massacre at Charleston's AME Church), Slate
Account for the Pillaging of African-American Freedom, New York Times
Trayvon Martin killing: The legacy of extralegal racial violence continues on, NYU Press
Fall 2020 | African American History I (AFS/HIS 3140)
Fall 2020 | African Americans, History and Memory (5261/7261)
Historian's Craft: Detroit 1967 (HIS 3000)
Theory and Methods (HIS 7830)
African American History & Memory (HIS 5261/7261) Topics covered: Slavery & Freedom; Civil Rights; Black Detroit; Detroit 1967
African American History I (AFS/HIS 3140)
African American History II (AFS/HIS 3150)
Civil War and Reconstruction (HIS 5040/7040)
American Slavery (HIS 5241/7241)