Troubling Jim Crow: Installment #1

Dr. Sherick Hughes

Dr. Sherick Hughes, Guest Writer

At campus events, it is not unusual to find me singing the fight song of my alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. With the first thunderous clap, I join the rhythm and singing of the refrain, “I’m a Tarheel born, I’m a Tarheel bred and when I die, I’m a Tarheel dead.”  Unlike many of the beloved fellow alumni with whom I sing at the state’s public flagship, I am quite literally a Tarheel born and whose family was enslaved and bred in the Tarheel state. Since my return to the home of the Tarheels as a tenured faculty member, I haven’t been timid about naming this irony within my spheres of influence. Having that little nugget of knowledge about the particular history of my family in the state brings pain and pride, progress and push-back; sending electrical signals of struggle and tiny ripples of hope up and down my spine each time I sing that refrain. I share that irony with others, now, with the inherent power and complications of my current social positioning, so it is not lost at the intersection of nostalgia and ignorance; yours, mine, and theirs. I am a proud Black man with maternal relatives dating back to the 1800s and slavery at Camden County’s Bartlett Plantation, the same county of my parents’ birth and where my six siblings and I matriculated through elementary, middle and high school.

Just months before Dr. Christine Sleeter offered me the honor to serve as a guest write for her “History and Family blog,” I received one of the best holiday gifts of my adult life from a socially distant, but genetically close female cousin via It would be the first and only photograph to emerge of my deceased paternal grandfather, Edmund Hughes (who was my female cousin’s great uncle). The aftermath of this gift deepened my interest in translating Sleeter’s (2013) critical family history across my nuanced Black family with a particular interest in committing to our history in critical ways that trouble Jim Crow’s incessant misinformation and dis-information (i.e., purposefully erroneous narratives).

Critical family history “applies insights from…critical theory… to an analysis of how one’s family has been constructed historically…within and through relations of power” (Sleeter, 2013). Therefore, the goal of this series of blogs is troubling Jim Crow by describing the three key strategies that I have applied to analyze how my family has been constructed historically within and through power relations in North Carolina. I will share one key strategy in each of three blog installments: “I don’t think that’s my Daddy,” “Did you know yo Mama was white?“, and “Black people don’t float and swim.” Ultimately, the compilation intends to describe how I (with assistance from my relatives) am beginning the process of troubling the faulty, oppressive intergenerational narratives and unsubstantiated rumors spread by Jim Crow with hopes that this process will inspire others to do so. 

I am finding that critical family history can be a particularly useful methodological translation across the lived experiences of my family and me. Albeit unintended, the Black critical family history techniques shared in this blog echo those that have been applied in the final wave of family history discussed by Gardner (2003) in “Black and white: American genealogy and popular response.”  For Gardner, it seems that my work here would represent a third wave of family history, because it not only intends to build on heritage studies, but also “makes visible how race, class, culture, gender, and other forms of difference and power played out in the family’s history” (Sleeter, 2013). It is my sincere hope that the information shared in the three installments that follow will illuminate the potential of this kind of Black critical family history work. Perhaps, in the naming and sharing of such techniques, other Black scholar-activists and I may concomitantly empower ourselves further by gaining more complex, clear and transparent understandings of the “vexing issues of the present by unearthing how they played out in our own pasts, and how the present is linked to the past” (Sleeter, 2013). And, perhaps, we may find other ways to connect and apply Black critical family history to critical race theory in education (Dixson & Rousseau, 2006; and Lynn & Dixson, 2013).


Rousseau, C. K., Eds. (2006). Critical race theory in education. New York: Routledge.

Gardner, E. (2003). Black and white: American genealogy, race, and popular response.The Midwest Quarterly 44, 148-160.

Lynn, M. & Dixson, A. D. (Eds.) (2013). Handbook of Critical Race Theory in Education. New York, NY: Routledge.

Sleeter, C. (2013). Critical Family History Blog. Retrieved May 19, 2013, at

Dr. Sherick Hughes, MA, MPA, Ph.D. is Associate Professor with Tenure, and Founder and Director, Interpretive Research Suite & Carter Qualitative Thought Lab Graduate Program Coordinator/Chair, Cultural Studies & Literacies Program Founder and Director, Black Alumni of the School of Education (BASE), School of Education, University of North Carolina, CB #3500, Peabody Hall, Chapel Hill, NC 27599


  1. Lynne Hamer says

    Great series, Dr. Hughes! You have helped solve the problem of white teachers teaching to the needs of white students when we teach critical whiteness studies. Brilliant! LH at UT

  2. Anonymous says


    You have been an invaluable part of my academic trajectory. I continue to learn from you.

    Sherick Hughes

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