My academic projects largely focus on drowned towns, or, more specifically, towns that were intentionally flooded in the name of progress, development, and “public” infrastructure. The towns I work with/in are located in the American South, have a disproportionately large Black population, and, prior to their dispossession, were often regarded by government entities as unprofitable, empty, and lifeless landscapes. Through archival materials, participant observation, (digital) Black geographies, and critical fabulation, I argue that white institutions and New Dealers invented undesirable landscapes and conditions in order to reclaim and remove environments, populations, and self-sustaining Black communities.
Black travel narratives
The Negro Motorist Green Book was an annual guidebook for Black motorists, commonly referred to simply as the Green Book. Published by New York City mailman Victor Hugo Green from 1936 to 1966, the Green Book included the front-cover warning: “Carry your Green Book with you—You may need it.” In my research leading up to my Route 66 trip, I came across exactly zero pictures of Black people on the Mother Road. In my time on the road, my interactions were largely with white residents and white travelers. Put simply, I am conscious of my Blackness in a space that wasn’t built with travelers like me in mind. I’ve written travel (hi)stories and (auto)ethnographies for Airstream, Polaroid, The National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Roadtrippers Magazine. Travel and movement — for leisure, for safety, for relocation, for work — has never been free or accessible for all; I seek to document and disseminate that reality.
cartographies of racial violence
Spaces of Black life, Black culture, and Black (un)belonging are regularly marked with violence or violent legacies. My work — documenting dispossession, disenfranchisement, disillusion, drowning, and death — is unfortunately no different. Under the tutelage of Dr. Seth Kotch, I helped develop A Red Record, a project digitally identifying and marking the locations of lynchings in the former Confederacy. My undergraduate thesis, “The Legacy of a Lynching: Community and Familial Adaptation in the Wake of Racial Trauma,” tells the story of the life and death of a sixteen-year-old boy named Eugene Daniel, and documents the sociopolitical conditions of one tiny, interwoven (now-drowned) town in central North Carolina that murdered one of its own. My ongoing work with The Black Geographic, and Black Geographies, broadly, seeks not to reproduce these social, political, and narrative violences, but rather to illuminate historically suppressed stories and voices in order to tell a broader Black (hi)story.
historic Route 66
Route 66 holds a special place in my heart. In the Summer of 2018, I was selected to be a Roadie with the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s #PreserveRoute66 campaign, where I documented underrepresented histories, interacted with residents and travelers, and pushed for federal legislation to protect this historic highway. This brief trip along the Mother Road was just the beginning of a blossoming love for me. I served as a founding board member for the Rt. 66 Green Book Task Force from 2018 to 2019. I wrote half a dozen articles about my love of the highway. And I still regularly dream about the feeling of being on the open road, in tiny downtowns, and in well-worn diner booths with my pals.
My work contemplates placemaking, belonging, and longevity, and I often ask: What happens when a space of community, history, and collective memory ceases to exist? In my work with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Community Histories Workshop, I helped document, generate conversation around, and preserve historic spaces, ranging from the longest-running cotton mill in North Carolina to an abandoned mental hospital to historic Route 66. I am a Mildred Colodny Diversity Scholar with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and I am committed to saving spaces of underrepresented history.
radical Black imagining(s)
Within the Afrotectopia Imagineer Fellowship, in my Smithsonian presentation and panel, alongside the field of Black Geographies, and in my own life and work, I am (re)imagining Radical Black Futures. For me, the future is effervescent, ethereal, expanding. Everyone has access to clean water, and ancestral lands are returned to the rightful stewards. Capitalism is defeated; abolition is achieved. The future is queer, both literally and in the Muñozian sense — “a horizon imbued with potentiality.” Food is plenty, creativity is abundant. We are free to pursue the activities that foster our interests, tap into our abilities, and stretch our imaginations. The future combines all of the best things of this world — well-told stories, tender lovers, long hikes, deep conversations, intimate friendships, rich histories, restful mornings — and all of the joys we haven’t yet imagined possible. We are whole, we are hopeful, we are here.