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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University April 26, 2004 | Vol. 33 No. 32
Historian Awarded a Guggenheim for Work on Sex and Civil Rights

Jane Dailey

By Jessica Valdez
Special to The Gazette

Jane Dailey believes sex was central to the American civil rights movement. And now the Johns Hopkins associate professor of history — who calls sex the "lynchpin of segregation" — has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to prove it.

As one of about 185 artists, scholars and scientists to receive the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation's 80th award, Dailey will use the funds to take a leave from Johns Hopkins to finish her second book, Sex and Civil Rights, which will be published by Harcourt.

"The book puts issues of sex, particularly interracial sex, at the center of the story of the modern civil rights movement," she said.

Dailey was awarded more than $30,000, and Johns Hopkins will match the funds so that she can use the next academic year to finish the book.

Of the 3,269 applicants, 185 fellows were selected, in everything from poetry to physics. "It's an incredible honor; daunting, actually," said Dailey, who is the mother of an 11-year-old son and is married to Johns Hopkins history professor David Nirenberg.

Dailey hopes to bring out an oft-ignored element in history: the role of sex in American racial segregation of the early 20th century.

"During this period, African-American rights were bound — both in terms of law and in the white imagination — to the question of interracial sex," she said. "Yet civil rights historians have ignored sex and seen it as unrelated to the broader campaign for equal rights."

Far from underestimating the role of interracial sex, civil rights activists skirted the subject because of its centrality and sensitivity, she said.

"In a world in which a young black boy like Emmett Till could be murdered for whistling at a white woman, sex was the very last topic supporters of black equality wanted to discuss," she said. "Rather than attack the sexual barrier openly, civil rights proponents developed strategies to erode segregation around the margins."

Dailey hasn't always been interested in Southern civil rights, she said. She grew up in California, far from the heart of the civil rights movement.

"I didn't really know anything about the South until I went to graduate school," she said. And even then, she stumbled into history of segregation and the 19th century by what she termed an "accident."

"I went to graduate school at Princeton to do 20th-century history, but the 20th-century history professor retired," she said.

Dailey began her teaching career at Rice University, where she spent six years before coming to Johns Hopkins three years ago.

She has written another book, Before Jim Crow: The Politics of Race in Post-Emancipation Virginia, and co-edited Jumpin' Jim Crow: Southern Politics from Civil War to Civil Rights. She is an American Council of Learned Societies Fellow and a Prize Fellow at the American Academy of Berlin.

The Guggenheim Fellowship Awards recognize artists, scholars and scientists who show past achievement and promise for future accomplishment. Since 1925, the foundation has granted more than $230 million to more than 15,500 recipients.

Jessica Valdez is an intern in the Office of News and Information.


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