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Shannen Dee Williams

Assistant Professor


Dr. Shannen Dee Williams is a historian of the United States and the black Catholic diaspora. She teaches courses in U.S., African-American, women’s, religious, and civil rights history.

Dr. Williams is currently working on the manuscript for a book entitled, “Subversive Habits: Black Nuns and the Long Struggle to Desegregate Catholic America.” Her groundbreaking study chronicles the epic journey of black Catholic sisters in the United States from their fiercely contested beginnings in the nineteenth century to the present day. It also unearths the largely hidden history of black sisters in the fight to dismantle racial and gender barriers in the U.S. Church and wider American society.

Prior to joining the UTK faculty, Dr. Williams was the 2013-2014 postdoctoral fellow in African-American studies in the history department at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. For the 2012-2013 academic year, she was a lecturer in history department at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, where she was named “Professor of the Year,” by the Black Affairs Council and the Black Graduate Student Association.

In the spring of 2015, Dr. Williams (with Dr. Brandon Winford) established the Fleming-Morrow Endowment in African-American History through the UT Foundation. Named in honor of Drs. Cynthia Griggs Fleming and John H. Morrow, Jr., two pioneer African-American professors in the UTK College of Arts and Sciences and history department, this endowment (inspired by the university “Journey to the Top 25” campaign) is part of an ongoing initiative to increase the department’s national and international profile as it relates to African-American history and institutionalize black history at the university. It will provide funding for a distinguished lecture series in African-American history and two annual student prizes in African-American and military history. Donations to the Fleming-Morrow Endowment can be made using the following link:  


Ph.D. Rutgers University, 2013.

M.A. University of Wisconsin at Madison, 2006.

B.A. Agnes Scott College, 2004. magna cum laude. Phi Beta Kappa.

Awards and Recognitions

  • Author of the Month Designation, National Black Catholic Congress, July 2015
  • Charlotte W. Newcombe Fellowship (for Religion and Ethics), Woodrow Wilson National Foundation, 2011-12.
  • Huggins-Quarles Award, Organization of American Historians, 2011.
  • Albert J. Beveridge Grant, American Historical Association, 2010.
  • John Tracy Ellis Dissertation Award, American Catholic Historical Association, 2010.
  • Drusilla Dunjee Houston Memorial Award for Best Graduate Essay in History, Association of Black Women Historians, 2008.
  • “Memphis State Eight” First Place Paper Prize, 9th Annual Graduate Conference in African-American History, University of Memphis, 2007.
  • Tom W. Shick Award for Excellence in the Study of African-American History, University of Wisconsin at Madison, 2005.
  • Michael J. Brown History Prize, Awarded to Outstanding Senior Student in History, Agnes Scott College, 2004

Selected Publications

Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles

  • “The Global Catholic Church and the Radical Possibilities of #BlackLivesMatter,” Journal of Africana Religions (accepted)
  • “Desegregating the Habit: Black Nuns and the Long Struggle to Integrate Female Religious Life in the U.S. Catholic Church” (under review)
  • “Why Black Catholic History Matters” (in process)
  • “The Real Sister Act: Black Nuns, Contested Memories, and the Limitations of the U.S. Racial Imagination” (in process)

Book Reviews

  • Review of Tennessee Women: Their Lives and Times, Volume 2, edited by Beverly Greene Bond and Sarah Wilkerson Freeman, (in process for the Tennessee Historical Quarterly)
  • Review of Talking to the Dead: Religion, Music, and Lived Memory Among Gullah/Geechee Women by LeRhonda S. Manigault-Bryant (forthcoming in the Journal of African American History in 2016)
  • Review of Roy Wilkins: The Quiet Revolutionary and the NAACP, by Yvonne Ryan, Journal of Southern History, LXXXI (May 2015): 511-12.

Encyclopedia Entries                                                                                       

  • “The Sisters of Loretto,” “Sister Patricia Haley, SCN,” and “Father Mary Simon (Vincent) Smith,” in The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia (forthcoming 2015)
  • “Free African Americans” and “Slavery” in Encyclopedia of U.S. Political History. Vol. 1. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2010.
  • “Rosa Parks” in Encyclopedia of U.S. Political History. Vol. 6. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2010.

Selected Online Articles and Blog Entries

Contact Information

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