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Coffey biographical page

Michele Grigsby Coffey



Michele Grigsby Coffey



Office: 114 Mitchell Hall
Telephone: 901.678.3378
Fax: 901.678.2720
Education: Ph.D., History, University of South Carolina, 2010





Fields of interest

African American history; women and gender; American political history; 20th-century US history; American south

I am fascinated by politics, broadly defined, and the intersections between cultural and political history. I am primarily interested in rhetorical constructions of gender and race within the political and legal systems of the twentieth century south.That interest has led me to intriguing projects examining child custody and maternal rights in the early 20th century, African American activism in the Depression era, conservative response against the Equal Rights Amendment and community mobilization during Freedom Summer.

I am very engaged in interdisciplinary work and am currently collaborating with Jodi Skipper (Anthropology and Southern Studies) at the University of Mississippi as the co-editor of an exciting Southern Studies collection. The work came out of what was a path-breaking conference which we organized at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at Oxford in February 2014. The Transforming New South Identities symposium brought together scholars from a wide range of disciplines who are pushing the boundaries of field in various ways. The collection, Navigating Souths: Transdisciplinary Explorations of a US Region, is currently under consideration by the University of Georgia Press.

Additionally, I have been fortunate to engage in the field of leadership education through my work in peer mentoring programs and curriculum development. When I am doing my historical research, I study how individuals in the past built community and empowered one another to action in diverse and varied settings. When I am doing leadership work, I focus on helping people in the present to develop the skills necessary to do the same on their terms.  The privilege of seeing these processes from both perspectives strengthens my research in each field.  

Courses taught

African American History; The Historians Craft; Introduction to Southern Studies; National Leadership and the Dilemma of Democracy; The New South; Race, Gender and 20th Century Southern Politics; Southern Leaders; Southern Lives; United States History from 1877; United States History to 1877; United States History Since 1945

Representative publications

  • The State of Louisiana v. Charles Guerand: Interracial Sexual Mores, Rape Rhetoric, and Respectability in 1930s New Orleans.” Louisiana History, Volume LIV, no. 1, (Winter 2013): 47-93.  [This article won the 2013 Presidents' Memorial Award from the Louisiana Historical Association for the best article appearing in a volume of Louisiana History.]
  • Tillman v. Tillman: Child Custody, Motherhood and the Power of a Populist Demagogue.” In South Carolina Women: Their Lives and Times. Marjorie J. Spruill, Valinda Littlefield and Joan Marie Johnson, editors. (University of Georgia Press, January 2010).
  • Rising to the Challenge: A High School Leadership Curriculum. John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Institute, 2005.  Approved by the Texas Education Agency, 2005-2013.

Representative conference papers

  • “Growing up Scarred by Freedom: Analyzing the Impact of Freedom Summer on Childhood.”  Oral History Association, October 2014
  • “Theresa Hicks vs. ‘Politicking on Government Time:’ Fighting the Equal Rights Amendment though Opposition to the Commission on the Status of Women.” The ERA in the 21st Century: Where Have We Come From, Where Will We Go?,  Invitational conference at Roger Williams University, November 2013
  • “Battling the Sinners ‘Politicking on Government Time:’ The Legal Challenge against the Commission on the Status of Women in South Carolina.” Southern Historical Association, November 2012
  • “Deviants, Beasts and Ladies: Interracial Sexual Mores, Rape Rhetoric and Respectability in 1930s New Orleans.” Popular Culture Association in the South and the American Culture Association in the South, October 2011
  • “Uniting to Slay the White Beast: Rape Rhetoric and the Prosecution of Charles Guerand.” American Historical Association, January 2010
  • “Defending the Community from the Police: African American Activism and the Prosecution of Police Brutality in 1930s New Orleans.” Association for the Study of African American Life and History, October 2009
  • “Tillman v. Tillman: Child Custody, Motherhood and the Power of a Populist Demagogue.” Southern Association for Women Historians, June 2009
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