Skip to main content

Rhonda Y. Williams

Professor of History, John L. Seigenthaler Chair in American History

Professor 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. She is 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.

At present, Williams is researching illicit narcotics economies in the post-1930s United States, and continues to examine the history of black power politics in the United States.

She joins 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.

Courses taught:
HIST 2690 Civil Rights Movement
HIST 2686 Race, Rights, and the American Dream