N.C. A&T Alumnus Receives Lillian Smith Book Award, A National Social Justice Recognition

By Alana Allen / 06/18/2020 Alumni

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (June 19, 2020) – The Southern Regional Council and the University of Georgia Libraries has selected author, historian and 1997 North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University alumnus Dr. Jelani Favors as the 2020 recipient of the Lillian Smith Book Award for his distinguished work on “Shelter in a Time of Storm: How Black Colleges Fostered Generations of Leadership and Activism.”

“I am beyond humbled and honored to receive this award. I put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this project to tell the broader story of historically black colleges and universities,” said Favors. “And to now stand in the company with distinguished authors like Alice Walker and Alex Haley has confirmed for me that the journey to complete this project was all worth it.”

Favors’ work is particularly timely and relevant considering current global attention surrounding the long overdue need for social justice and equity. From the history-making acts of the A&T Four, who ignited the national sit-in movement to desegregate public places, to more recently protesting for the repeal of gerrymandered congressional districts that divided the university in half, N.C. A&T students have shown themselves to be powerful activists over many generations.

In his book, Favors chronicles the development and significance of HBCUs through stories from institutions such as Cheyney State University, Tougaloo College, Bennett College, Alabama State University, Jackson State University, Southern University and A&T. He demonstrates how HBCUs became a refuge during the oppression of the Jim Crow era and illustrates the central role their campus communities played during the civil rights and Black Power movements.

“My journey to an HBCU actually started at North Carolina Central University. However, after my father passed away my freshman year, I wanted to move closer to home near Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and transferred to A&T,” said Favors. “While being a student on campus, I was nurtured in the environment and my professors molded me and prepared me for my future. One of my professors, Dr. Claude Barnes, was instrumental in encouraging me to look into applying to graduate school at The Ohio State University to enroll in their Black Studies program.”

“Shelter in a Time of Storm” provides readers a better understanding of how HBCUs became a vital seedbed for politicians, community leaders, reformers and activists.

“I started the journey of writing this book when I was encouraged by Dr. Hassan Jefferies to expand my dissertation of the comparison of Jackson State University and Tougaloo College in 2006,” he said. “I conducted my research by looking at seven HBCUs to tell a bigger story on how these institutions played a major role in the United States.

“There’s one piece of advice my professor gave me that still resonates with me, and that is, ‘It is your job as a historian to challenge your reader to rethink what they thought they already knew.’ ”

An associate professor of history at Clayton State University, Favors will be honored Sept. 6 in a virtual awards ceremony co-hosted by the University of Georgia Libraries, the Southern Regional Council, the Georgia Center for the Book at the DeKalb Public Library and Piedmont College.

The Lillian Smith Book Award is named after the acclaimed author of the controversial 1944 novel “Strange Fruit” and other worksThe Lillian Smith Book Award recognizes works that examine issues of race, social justice, civil and human rights, the education and socialization of young people, breaking silence among repressed groups and matters that are significant to the changing South. Past winners include Walker, Haley, the Honorable John Lewis and others.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree in history, Favors obtained both master’s and doctorate degrees from Ohio State in 2006.

His next project chronicles the legacy of lynching and examines the 1898 Lake City, South Carolina, murder of Frazier Baker and his 1-year-old daughter, Julia, and the federal trial that ensued. The case served as a catalyst for the early civil rights movement.

Media Contact Information: avallen@ncat.edu

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