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Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham

African American history professor Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham was born in Washington, D.C. in 1945. Her father, Dr. Albert Neal Dow Brooks, was the secretary-treasurer for the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History and editor of the organization’s Negro History Bulletin; her mother, Alma Elaine Campbell, a high school history teacher who later served as the supervisor for history in the Washington, D.C. public school system. Higginbotham received her B.A. degree in history from the University of Wisconsin in 1969 and her M.A. degree in history from Howard University in 1974. She went on to receive a certification in Archival Administration and Records Management in 1975 from the U.S. National Archives, and a certificate in quantitative methodology in Social Science in 1977 from the Newberry Library in Chicago. She went on to earn her Ph.D. degree in history from the University of Rochester in 1984.

From 1969 to 1971, Higginbotham taught American history and served as an eighth grade counselor at Francis Parkman Jr. High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She then moved to Washington, D.C. where she taught American history and social studies at Woodrow Wilson High School. After working briefly as a manuscript research associate at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University from 1974 to 1975, Higginbotham served as professor of history at several institutions, including Dartmouth College, the University of Maryland, and the University of Pennsylvania. Higginbotham joined the faculty at Harvard University in 1993 as a professor of Afro-American Studies and African American Religious History. In 1998, she was named the Victor S. Thomas Professor of History and African American Studies. In 2006, Higginbotham was appointed chair of Harvard University’s African American Studies department; and, in 2008, she served as acting-director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. Higginbotham was appointed as the Inaugural John Hope Franklin Professor of American Legal History at Duke University Law School.

Higginbotham is the author of Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church: 1880-1920 (1993). She also updated and revised the late John Hope Franklin’s African American history survey From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans (2010). Higginbotham served as the editor-in-chief of The Harvard Guide to African-American History (2001), and was co-editor, with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., of the expanded, twelve-volume The African American National Biography (2012).

The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASAALH) honored Higginbotham with the Carter G. Woodson Scholars Medallion in 2008 and the Living Legacy Award in 2012. She was awarded the Joan Kelly Memorial Prize in Women’s History from the American Historical Association and the Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Award from the Association of Black Women Historians. In 2011, she received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters degree from Howard University. Higginbotham is a Fellow of the American Philosophical Society, and was chosen by Harvard University to be a Walter Channing Fellow in 2003.

Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 25, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.007

Sex

Female

Interview Date

4/25/2013

Last Name

Higginbotham

Maker Category
Middle Name

Brooks

Schools

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

University of Rochester

Slowe Elementary School

MacFarland Middle School

Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School

Howard University

First Name

Evelyn

Birth City, State, Country

Washington

HM ID

HIG06

Favorite Season

Summer

State

District of Columbia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Massachusetts

Birth Date

6/4/1945

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Boston

Country

United States

Favorite Food

None

Short Description

African american history professor Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (1945 - ) served as the Victor S. Thomas Professor of History and African American Studies and chair of the Department of African and African American Studies at Harvard University.

Employment

Francis Parkman Jr. High School

Woodrow Wilson High School

Moorland-Spingarn Research Center

Simmons College

Harvard University

Dartmouth College

University of Maryland, College Park

University of Pennsylvania

Princeton University

Harvard University Guide to African-American History

Duke University Law School

Favorite Color

Earth Tones, Olive Green, Rust

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham talks about her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham talks about her mother's career in education

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham remembers her maternal grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham lists the schools where her mother taught

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham talks about her paternal grandmother's adoptive father, James Henry Holmes

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham describes her father's social network in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham talks about her paternal great-grandfather, Albert Royal Brooks

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham describes Virginia's role in the domestic slave trade

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham talks about the trial of Confederate President Jefferson Davis

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham describes her paternal great-grandparents' civic contributions

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham describes her paternal grandfather's education and career

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham talks about her paternal relatives

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham talks about her grandfather's pastorate of the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham talks about Nannie Helen Burroughs

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham describes her paternal grandfather's social activities

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham describes the importance of churches in the black community

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham talks about her paternal grandfather's progressive politics

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham describes her father's education

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham lists her mother's professors at Howard University

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham describes her father's career in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham talks about her parents' courtship

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham describes her likeness to her parents

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham talks about her siblings and maternal grandmother

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham describes her earliest childhood memories

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham describes the places she lived in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham remembers the Brookland neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham remembers segregation in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham describes her early education in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham talks about the importance of history

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham describes her father's role in the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham remembers her family's vacations

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham recalls her early interest in history, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham describes her early aspirations

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham recalls her early interest in history, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham describes her coursework at Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$4

DAStory

7$9

DATitle
Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham describes her likeness to her parents
Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham describes her early aspirations
Transcript
I think I may know the answer to this already, but when you think about your parents' personalities, their proclivities, their sense of humor, how they walk, talk, how they look, who do you think you take after the most?$$I look like both of them, I actually do. I look like--when I was growing up, I used to think I looked like my father [Albert N.D. Brooks]. One of the reasons is that I'm tall and the Brooks men are tall and he was like 6'3", and as I was growing up, I always thought I looked like him but as I got--and my mother used to always say, "You look just like your father." But as I've gotten older, I definitely look like my mother and, and I know I look like my mother because people who haven't even met me have sometimes said to me, I got on a, I remember in D.C. [Washington, D.C.] on an elevator and the man said, "Are you Elaine's [Elaine Campbell Wells] daughter?" (Laughter) So, yeah, I look like both of them. I take after, personality wise, more my father. Now it's interesting, and this I think has something to do with me again. But my father was a, as I told you, he was a scholar, he was very committed to, he wrote a lot of those articles in there but he was so playful. He was such a playful person. My mother was not the playful one. In fact, she was the older, emotionally, of the two of them, so he might have been older in years but she was clearly the more mature. So, he was much more of a, a fun person. You know, so even when he's taking me to the, you might say, well going to the association [Association for the Study of Negro Life and History; Association for the Study of African American Life and History], you know, which was Woodson's [Carter G. Woodson] home, actually, after Woodson died, he just turned this thing--going to there on a Saturday, I wouldn't think that was playful, but it was, I mean, it was actually fun going there with him, you know. So he was--and just a, he had a sense of humor. He had a looseness about him, and my mother was much more, you know, I don't know, maybe it's the Jamaican part of her, I don't know, but she was more, much more conscious of having things right, and having things--. I remember when we were young, growing up in Washington, my sister [Elaine Brooks] and I, they used to have something called debutante balls. Now we went to public schools all the way, but they had debutante balls and my mother and father were in clubs. It was a really big thing in D.C., these social clubs, and they played bridge and they were very much, you know, social people. And so, there were these debutante balls and my mother went to my father and she said, you know, "The girls need to come out, to be deb- ." He just said, "Absolutely not; we're not about that." So he was very clear about where we were, what we were supposed to be doing with our lives. And, you know, so you think about a teenager who had friends who were going to these balls, I never wanted to do this kind of thing. You know, it, when he was, "Absolutely not," I never took it as a challenge to what I wanted to do. I was right there with him: "Absolutely not; this is not what we're about," you know. So I, I, I know I get my personality from him.$So here's one of my eighth grade stories. When I was in the seventh or eighth grade, it must have been the eighth grade, because we stayed in high--junior high [MacFarland Junior High School; MacFarland Middle School, Washington, D.C.] to the ninth grade, it switched like right after I left but I used to take Latin and I had a white teacher, she's a very good teacher and we were on a track system. And so we had an honors track, a regular track, a general track and a basic track. So the honors were for people who, you know, were really, I guess, smart kids, and the regular was for people who were--I mean, I'm sorry, academic, that's what it was called, academic track, was for people who were going to go to college. And the general was for people who probably wouldn't go to college but maybe would get vocational skills and the basic was for people who, I think, they saw as pretty much unskilled workers, okay. So, I'm in the eighth grade and I love Latin, so my Latin teacher tells me that there is a young woman who is in the general track and she takes, she's finished one year of Latin and I finished, I'm finishing two years of Latin, and this girl is finishing one year of Latin and she's saying, or she's had a semester, I forget how it goes, but whatever this woman said, she said to me, "If she doesn't take whatever that next year of Latin is, she won't be able to go to high school in the academic track. So, could you teach her Latin over the summer?" So I was thirteen years old, I taught this girl Latin over the summer. This girl was smart so it was more than just my being a teacher but I knew when I taught her--well actually I used to teach my dolls, I just knew I wanted to be a teacher (laughter). You know how you have a calling, it was my calling. But my first human subject was Wythea [ph.], that was her name, she was my, my little student. And she came back and she was so glowing. I made such a great impression on that Latin teacher. I could have asked that teacher for anything, but she was, it was my first real feeling that I knew this was my calling.$$Now that's so sweet, taught your dolls (laughter).$$I taught the dolls. I tell my students now, I can teach anybody. I can teach somebody who's in--I mean, I haven't really done elementary school but I always say, there's no concept that you can't teach somebody. Now you go in more depth, but there's no concept that you can't teach somebody so you can teach somebody who's, you know, a genius, or you can teach somebody who is in junior high school, but they can learn it. They don't learn it with the same amount of complexity but they can learn it. And I think it helps because when you teach, and I, well, you know, I've taught in a lot of different places so be--at one point in my life, I was teaching at the University of Maryland, College Park [University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland], and they had such a range of students. I mean, I had students who were as smart, if not smarter, than any student here [Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts] and then I had students who were--especially some of the athletes, could barely read. I mean they were, when I taught at Maryland, I think my daughter [Nia Higginbotham] was in the fourth grade, she was reading better than some of them. So, but you still have to teach them.