Thursday, March 23, 2023 — At the Trotter Multicultural Center’s Multipurpose Room, Kidada E. Williams, Ph.D., contributed as the main speaker for the DAAS Zora Neale Hurston Lecture. Williams is a writer and historian who researches African American survivors of racist violence. She is also an associate professor of the Department of History at Wayne State University Detroit. Her notable works consist of the books I Saw Death Coming and They Left Great Marks on Me, and she is the host and co-producer of the podcast docudrama “Seizing Freedom.”

Williams lectured to an intimate group of professors, students, and members of the community. She began with the lecture’s namesake Zora Neale Hurston and her contributions to anthropology and filmmaking that portrayed racial struggles in the early 20th century American South. Williams used this topic as a springboard for her next point of discussion regarding her own work. She spoke about her 2012 book They Left Great Marks on Me: African American Testimonies of Racial Violence from Emancipation to World War I. She felt that the book contained important subject matter that many needed to read, however, she expressed her failure in its accessibility. She claimed that not even her family would read it, as it is loaded with jargon only those in her field would tolerate.

As such, she moved on to discuss the importance of readability — curating her work to reach the level of the public. She advised knowing one’s own audience when doing “public work” — how to reach the most people and make them understand the work. Regarding public work, she admitted to the difficulties of engaging with this public that is full of harsh opinions and often gaining sources from misinformation.

Williams also spoke about the College Board’s revising of the AP African American studies course and the lacking way that the Civil War and Reconstruction era is being taught in schools. A lot of events are glossed over in high school U.S. History classes, so when Williams gets students in her classes, she has a lot of “filling in gaps” to do, because that is what a lot of African American history is — gaps. Therefore, she feels that it is her job to fill in those gaps as a historian.

With a detailed and concise delivery, Williams ended her lecture and opened up the floor for questions. All of which she answered with knowledge and familiarity. She even revealed the subject of her upcoming book, which has research deeply involved with events in Detroit’s history.