The creation of three professorships between 2000 and 2007 in the College of Arts and Sciences that transformed Southern studies at Carolina was just the beginning.

John A. Powell ’77, a history major, who lives in New York City, generously established these professorships to provide substantial financial support allowing the College recruit and retain outstanding faculty. To honor Carolina’s renowned teachers and scholars in Southern studies, Powell created the Joel R. Williamson Distinguished Professorship, the John Shelton Reed Distinguished Professorship and the George B. Tindall Distinguished Professorship.

Powell has been a great supporter of Southern studies at Carolina.  In addition to these professorships, Powell has contributed generously to the Center for the Study of the American South, the Southern Folklife Collection, and the Carolina Bluegrass Initiative, among others.

The Professorships

The Joel R. Williamson Distinguished Professorship

UNC history professor emeritus Joel Williamson. Courtesy of the Daily Tar Heel.
UNC history professor emeritus Joel Williamson. Courtesy of the Daily Tar Heel.

Established by Powell in 2000, the Joel R. Williamson Distinguished Professorship honors Joel Williamson, member of the history faculty from 1960 to 2003 and former Lineberger Distinguished Professor in the Humanities. Reed taught generations of Carolina students about the complexities of the American South in the contexts of race, history and culture. He is particularly well known for his works on William Faulkner and Margaret Mitchell, and for his extensive scholarship on race relations in the South.

William R. Ferris has been the Joel R. Williamson Eminent Professor in the department of history since 2003.

The John Shelton Reed Distinguished Professorship

In 2003, Powell established the John Shelton Reed Distinguished Professorship to recognize the remarkable contributions of Kenan Professor Emeritus of Sociology John Shelton Reed. Reed, who taught at Carolina from 1969 to 2000, founded the UNC Center for the Study of the American South and is one of the most important writers, scholars and instructors on the Southern U.S.

Elizabeth Engelhardt has been the John Shelton Reed Distinguished Professor in the department of American studies since January 2015.

The George B. Tindall Distinguished Professorship

In 2007, Powell established a distinguished professorship in the College of Arts and Sciences in honor of the late Kenan Professor George Brown Tindall, a scholar of the American South who taught at UNC for 32 years. Tindall was often called a pioneer, both for his early advocacy of equal rights and for his insightful, inclusive research on the history of the South. He authored several books on Southern history, particularly on African Americans and segregation in the South and the methodical disfranchisement of African Americans into a state of economic dependency.

Bernard Herman has been the George B. Tindall Distinguished Professor in the department of American studies since 2009.

The Programs

Throughout the process of creating the three professorships, John Powell has provided crucial and strategic support for an extraordinary array of College and University initiatives related to Southern studies. Envisioning path breaking, innovative, collaborative endeavors, his gifts have made powerful educational moments a reality. He has supported artists and musicians in short term residencies that include classroom conversations and public programs. In just the last few years, he funded a series of workshops and symposia on Southern music including a series through the Southern Folklife Collection focused on the steel guitar, the banjo, and the fiddle.

On November 3, 2015, the Southern Folklife Collection held a special concert with New Orleans percussionist Alfred “Uganda” Roberts (Professor Longhair, above) and keyboardist John “JoJo” Hermann (Widespread Panic) with programmatic support from John Powell ‘77. In conversation with folklorist and “Blues Doctor” Bill Ferris, JoJo and Uganda lead a guided tour of New Orleans music.
On November 3, 2015, the Southern Folklife Collection held a special concert with New Orleans percussionist Alfred “Uganda” Roberts (Professor Longhair, above) and keyboardist John “JoJo” Hermann (Widespread Panic) with programmatic support from John Powell ‘77. 

Musicians including Jojo Hermann and Uganda Roberts have performed in the Wilson Library and William Ferris’s seminars; spoken word composer and artist Lonnie Holley spent a week at Carolina as a Southern Studies artist in residence meeting students in multiple classes and performing on the porch of the Center for the Study of the American South.

In 2014, John Powell established a Southern Studies fund that supports a game-changing array of ambitious projects that communicate Carolina’s broad-based distinction as a wellspring for reimaging the histories of the American South. Among the highlights are the creation of “Carolina Cooks/Carolina Eats” a statewide atlas of North Carolina’s foodways compiled through fieldwork and oral histories by faculty and students in the Southern Studies concentrations. The Southern Studies fund has provided critical support for an upcoming exhibition and accompanying UNC Press book, “Fever Within: The Art of Ronald Lockett,” that explores the creative work of the late artist who hailed from the African-American community of Bessemer, Alabama. Powell’s interventions enable the aggrandizement of world-class research collections in the Southern Folklife Collection and Southern Historical Collection, the formation of a Southern writers collaborative, and the founding of a bluegrass ensemble and curriculum in the departments of music and American Studies.

Excerpts taken from a winter 2004 Carolina Connections article by Chrys Bullard ‘76 and a December 2006 UNC General Alumni Association article, in addition to articles featured on the Arts and Sciences Foundation website.

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