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A black and white photo of Blair Kelley standing outside surrounded by trees.
Blair L.M. Kelley

Blair L.M. Kelley, a noted scholar of Black history and the African American experience, will be the next director of the Center for the Study of the American South and co-director of the Southern Futures Initiative.

Kelley has been a faculty member in the department of history at NC State University since 2002 and is currently assistant dean for Interdisciplinary Studies and International Programs in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

At UNC-Chapel Hill, she will join the faculty of the American studies department as the Joel R. Williamson Distinguished Professor of Southern Studies, effective January 2023. Kelley will spend the next year on a John Hope Franklin NEH Fellowship through the National Humanities Center to complete her book, Black Folk: The Promise of the Black Working Class, and will begin her directorship of the center in July 2023.

Kelley received her B.A. from the University of Virginia in history and African and African American studies. She earned her M.A. and Ph.D. in history, and graduate certificates in African and African American studies and women’s studies, at Duke University.

Her first book, Right to Ride: Streetcar Boycotts and African American Citizenship, won the Letitia Woods Brown Best Book Award from the Association of Black Women Historians.

She is an oft-cited historian who has appeared on CNN Tonight with Don Lemon, MSNBC’s All In and Melissa Harris Perry Show, NPR’s Here and Now, and WUNC’s The State of Things. She has written for the New York Times, the Washington PostThe RootThe GrioEbonySalon and Jet Magazine and has also produced and hosted her own podcast.

Highlighted as one of the top-tweeting historians by History News Network, Kelley was among the first generation of historians active on Twitter (@profblmkelley). A public historian, she believes it is essential to engage with diverse audiences in telling the history of the South and respond in creative and compelling ways to contextualize our past.

Marcie Cohen Ferris, professor emerita in American studies, will serve as interim director of the center for this academic year (July 1 through June 30, 2023). Ferris is editor of the recently published Edible North Carolina: A Journey across a State of Flavor (UNC Press, 2022). Edible North Carolina explores the contemporary food movement through a powerful lens on one state and its excellent food writers and thinkers. Under her leadership to further establish food studies across the University, UNC introduced a food studies minor in 2018. She co-chaired the University-wide Food for All: Local and Global Perspectives academic theme from 2015 to 2018. Ferris was an associate director of the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies at UNC and created the first UNC course focused on the Jewish South. She has been co-editor of CSAS’s peer-reviewed quarterly Southern Cultures since 2015.

Ayşe Erginer, executive editor of Southern Cultures, served as acting director of the center this year, and Jacqueline E. Lawton, associate professor in dramatic art, served as Southern Futures co-director this year.

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