Past Event

Conversations in Black Freedom Studies: Before Brown

February 1, 2024
6:30 PM - 8:00 PM
Event time is displayed in your time zone.

Join the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture online for the discussion Before Brown, a February talk from their Conversations in Black Freedom Studies series.

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional in the landmark case Brown vs. Board of Education. Authors Matthew F. Delmont (Half American: The Epic Story of African Americans Fighting World War II at Home and Abroad), Margaret A. Burnham (By Hands Now Known: Jim Crow’s Legal Executioners) Dylan C. Penningroth (Before the Movement: The Hidden History of Black Civil Rights), and Cookie Woolner (The Famous Lady Lovers: Black Women and Queer Desire Before Stonewall) look at the Black struggle in the decades before this historic verdict. Black people fought injustices in the criminal legal system, took on discrimination in the armed forces and defense industries, and struggled to make space for Black, queer lives.


Matthew Delmont | Dartmouth College

Dr. Matthew Delmont is the Frank J. Guarini Associate Dean of International Studies and Interdisciplinary Studies and the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor of History at Darthmouth College.

An expert on African-American History and the history of Civil Rights, he is the author of Half American: The Epic Story of African Americans Fighting World War II at Home and Abroad (Viking Books, 2022), which received the Ansfield-Wolf Book Award. He is also the author four previous books: Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African American Newspapers (Stanford University Press, 2019); Making Roots: A Nation Captivated (University of California Press, 2016); Why Busing Failed: Race, Media, and the National Resistance to School Desegregation (UC Press, 2016); and The Nicest Kids in Town: American Bandstand, Rock 'n' Roll, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in 1950s Philadelphia (UC Press, 2012).

He regularly shares his research with media outlets, including The New York TimesNPRTheAtlantic.comThe Washington Post, and The Conversation. Dr. Delmont has spoken and consulted with Fortune 500 companies, universities, colleges, and community organizations regarding African American history, civil rights, and how to reckon with the history of racism in America.

Margaret A. Burnham | Northeastern University

Dr. Margaret A. Burnham is an internationally recognized expert on civil and human rights, comparative constitutional rights, and international criminal law. She is the faculty co-director of the law school’s Center for Law, Equity, and Race (CLEAR) and founded and directs the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project (CRRJ), which investigates racial violence in the Jim Crow era and other historical failures of the criminal justice system. CRRJ serves as a resource for scholars, policymakers and organizers involved in various initiatives seeking justice for these crimes.

Among her impressive accomplishments, Professor Burnham headed a team of outside counsel and law students in a landmark case that settled a federal lawsuit. Professor Burnham’s team accused Franklin County Mississippi law enforcement officials of assisting Klansmen in the kidnapping, torture and murder of two 19-year-olds, Henry Dee and Charles Eddie Moore. CRRJ’s investigations are widely covered in the national press, including a PBS Frontline documentary series, Un(re)solved.

In 2021, President Joseph Biden nominated Professor Burnham to serve as a member of the Civil Rights Cold Case Records Review Board. In 2022, the U.S. Senate confirmed her appointment. The board is charged with reviewing the records of Civil Rights era cold criminal cases of murders and other racially motivated violence that occurred between 1940 and 1979. Many of these records are still closed to the public. The board is examining agency decisions to withhold access and to engage with them to determine if the records should still be withheld.

Dylan C. Penningroth | University of California at Berkeley, Law School

Dylan C. Penningroth specializes in African American history and in U.S. socio-legal history. His first book, The Claims of Kinfolk: African American Property and Community in the Nineteenth-Century South(opens in a new tab) (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), won the Avery Craven Prize from the Organization of American Historians. His articles have appeared in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review,(opens in a new tab) the Journal of American History,(opens in a new tab) the American Historical Review(opens in a new tab), and the Journal of Family History.(opens in a new tab) Penningroth has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Science Foundation, and the Stanford Humanities Center, and has been recognized by the Organization of American Historians’ Huggins-Quarles committee, a Weinberg College Teaching Award (Northwestern University), a McCormick Professorship of Teaching Excellence (Northwestern), and a MacArthur Foundation fellowship.

Before joining UC Berkeley in 2015, Dylan Penningroth was on the faculty of the History Department at the University of Virginia (1999-2002), at Northwestern University (2002-2015), and a Research Professor at the American Bar Foundation (2007-2015).

Penningroth’s new book is entitled Before the Movement: The Hidden History of Civil Rights (Liveright, 2023). Combining legal and social history, and drawing from a large sample of trial court records, the book explores how ordinary Black people used and thought about law in their everyday lives, and how Black legal activity and Black legal thought helped shape American law and Black social movements from the 1830s to the 1970s.

Cookie Woolner | University of Memphis

Cookie Woolner is a cultural historian of race, gender, and sexuality in the modern U.S. She is an Associate Professor in the History department at the University of Memphis. Her current manuscript, “The Famous Lady Lovers:” African American Women and Same-Sex Desire Before Stonewall (under contract with UNC Press), explores the lives of Black women who loved women in the Interwar era.

Her areas of specialty include: U.S. history 1865 to present with a focus on race, gender, sexuality and class; women, gender and queer studies; cultural history; women’s history; history of sexuality; LBGTQ history; feminist theory; queer theory; African American history; African American women’s history; history of feminisms; popular culture; popular entertainments; cultural studies; feminist methods in the humanities; intersectional feminism; transnational sexualities; subcultural studies.


The founding curators of this series, Professors Jeanne Theoharis (Brooklyn College/CUNY) and Komozi Woodard (Sarah Lawrence College), introduced a new paradigm that challenged the older geography, leadership, ideology, culture and chronology of Civil Rights historiography. Jeanne Theoharis continues in her role and is joined by Robyn C. Spencer-Antoine (Wayne State University) ) as co-curator. Komozi Woodard continues to advise the series from an emeritus position. Discussions take place on the first Thursday of each month. Learn more: