Finalist, Hooks National Book Award The life and accomplishments of an influential leader in the desegregated South
“An excellent biography reflective of the great contributions of Maxwell-Roddey to K–12 Black education, higher education, and African American studies. A beautifully written tribute to one of the most consequential Black educators of our time. Well balanced in historical execution and tone, this book will stand the test of time.”—Derrick P. Alridge, coeditor of The Black Intellectual Tradition: African American Thought in the Twentieth Century
“Provides an in-depth view of the role of a race woman during the post–civil rights era. Maxwell-Roddey’s presence in academic, local, and civil circles produced dividends that are being reaped by a community that is still unaware of her influence.”—Reginald K. Ellis, author of Between Washington and Du Bois: The Racial Politics of James Edward Shepard
This biography of educational activist and Black studies forerunner Bertha Maxwell-Roddey examines a life of remarkable achievements and leadership in the desegregated South. Sonya Ramsey modernizes the nineteenth-century term “race woman” to describe how Maxwell-Roddey and her peers turned hard-won civil rights and feminist milestones into tangible accomplishments in North Carolina and nationwide from the late 1960s to the 1990s.
Born in 1930, Maxwell-Roddey became one of Charlotte’s first Black women principals of a white elementary school; she was the founding director of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s Africana Studies Department; and she cofounded the Afro-American Cultural and Service Center, now the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Art + Culture. Maxwell-Roddey founded the National Council for Black Studies, helping institutionalize the field with what is still its premier professional organization, and served as the 20th National President of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., one of the most influential Black women’s organizations in the United States.
Using oral histories and primary sources that include private records from numerous Black women’s home archives, Ramsey illuminates the intersectional leadership strategies used by Maxwell-Roddey and other modern race women to dismantle discriminatory barriers in the classroom and the boardroom. Bertha Maxwell-Roddey offers new insights into desegregation, urban renewal, and the rise of the Black middle class through the lens of a powerful leader’s life story.
Sonya Y. Ramsey is associate professor of history and women’s and gender studies and the director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She is the author of Reading, Writing, and Segregation: A Century of Black Women Teachers in Nashville.
Publication of this work made possible by a Sustaining the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.