“The essence of Spelman College is Black womanhood”: The Spelman Campus Movement, 1924-2006
La'Nora Jefferson

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Primary Discipline

The mid- twentieth century Black Campus - Black Studies Movement was a Black Power precipitated and student-led movement that overturned the racist, eurocentric undergirding of American higher education. More recently, historians have acknowledged Black women’s participation in campus activism. However, their predominant focus on chauvinistic power dynamics within Black Power campus organizing inadvertently renders Black female students immobilized until the rise of Black Feminism during the mid-1970s periodized decline of the campus movement. By examining campus organizing at Spelman College, the premier Black women’s educational institution, from 1968 to 1976, my dissertation, “The Essence of Spelman College is Black Womanhood,’: The Spelman Campus Movement, 1924-2006,” showcases how Black women employed Black Power and Black Feminist praxes to advance the movement while articulating and prioritizing concern for their dignity and socio-political needs as Black women students. Employing a long movement methodology, I examine the decisive antecedents that enabled students’ mid- twentieth century activism. Additionally, I chart the establishment of Black Women’s Studies curriculum, and its conceptualization within and cultivation of Black Feminist thought and mobilization on Spelman’s campus between the 1980s and early 2000s. Ultimately, I assert that the establishment of Black Women’s Studies curriculum signaled a victory of the Black Campus-Black Studies Movement that effectuated lasting, progressive change in higher education and thereby enabled greater longevity and transformation in the overall movement. This study therefore prompts a reconsideration of the significance of Black Feminist organizing in the Black Campus-Black Studies Movement and subsequently the movement’s mid-1970s periodized decline.
About La'Nora Jefferson
La’Nora Jefferson is a history PhD candidate at Rutgers University. Her research explores the intersections of Black Power, Black Feminist and Black student campus organizing in the Post-War South. Specifically, it analyzes Black women’s campus organizing, the socio-political mobilization of historically Black colleges and universities, and the transformation of Black higher education pedagogy in the 20th century Black Student Movement. Her dissertation provides a long durée history of Black women students’ organizing at Spelman College at the intersection of the mid to late 20th century Black Power and Black Feminist Movements. With a History B.A. from the University of Houston, La’Nora is convicted that it is her God-given calling to cultivate greater socio-political understanding and reconciliation as well as facilitate equitable and accessible higher education learning through the teaching of history. Her conviction was solidified as an undergraduate intern and contributor to the Houston History Magazine within University of Houston’s Center for Public History. Since then, she has created inclusive Texas history curriculum for middle and high school students for the Dallas Historical Society, crafted syllabi and conducted discussions for interested community members historicizing the present Black Lives Matter Movement as well as reviewed high school students’ research projects for the Smithsonian Museum’s National History Day competition. In Rutgers’ history department, she has served as a co-chair and representative of the graduate student body’s Committee for Minority Student Affairs and continues departmental service as a student mentor. Additionally, she is a student leader of Rutgers’ Graduate Christian Fellowship campus ministry.

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