Center for the Study of the American South Names New Director

Blair LM Kelley, the Joel R. Williamson Distinguished Professor of Southern Studies, is the new director of the Center for the Study of the American South.

Blair LM Kelley is the new director of the Center for the Study of the American South. (Photo: Katrina Wittkamp)

Kelley began her role July 1 at CSAS, which studies Southern culture to emphasize the diversity of perspectives in the region. She will also serve as  co-director of the Southern Futures initiative, which promotes justice and equity in the South through the arts and humanities.

“I want to make sure that CSAS is a welcoming and special place and an inclusive place for all students,” Kelley told The Daily Tar Heel. “I am excited about that aspect of it, the really public-facing front porch of the University that CSAS can be.”

Ayşe Erginer ’91, the executive editor of Southern Cultures, said that a committee of faculty and staff wanted a director who was a senior scholar with excellence in research, teaching and publications related to the South, and they searched for someone that would bring a clear vision of next steps to the center, UNC and the field.

Kelley worked as a professor in the department of history and as the assistant dean for interdisciplinary studies and international programs in N.C. State University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences before coming to Carolina. 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 in 2010.

The center is getting ready to celebrate its 30th anniversary as well as the 50th anniversary of the Southern Oral History Program, which tells stories of the South to promote positive change.

The Love House, home to the Center for the Study of the American South (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Caroline Culler)

“I think it’s a great time for us both to reflect on what’s been accomplished and see how we can be present for our campus community and the wider community in this moment,” Kelley said, adding she’s excited about the support the center can give students and faculty.

Kelley is the first Black woman to serve as CSAS director, though she said she wishes other Black women had been given the opportunity to serve in this capacity before her.

“I’m hoping that the spaces I have taken up in my career have made pathways for others,” Kelley said. “And so really, that’s my job, to make sure that I’m broadening and delineating spaces for a variety of people to come in behind me.”

Cameron Hayes Fardy ’23

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