By Cecilia Cress
The Starr Center of the Study of the American Experience hosted author Dr. Mia Bay over Zoom on Oct. 12 to “discuss her research on African American views about Thomas Jefferson,” according to the Starr Center email.
Dr. Bay is Washington College’s 2021-2022 Patrick Henry History Fellow. According to Assistant Director for Programs and Experiential Learning at the Starr Center Kacey Stewart, who hosted the event, the Patrick Henry History Fellow is awarded each year to a “scholar working on a project about the history and legacy of America’s founding ideas, with a very broad view of what those ideas were and are.”
“The Fellowship seeks to support writers who aim not just to produce well-researched and innovative scholarship, but also take seriously the literary craft of making history and the value of books that speak to a broad and diverse public,” Stewart said.
According to Stewart, the Patrick Henry History Fellow not only spends nine months in Chestertown, but also works “in the 18th century office at the Starr Center in the Colonial Custom house on the Chester Riverfront” and also lives in “our 18th century Patrick Henry Fellows residence on Queen Street” in Chestertown.
During this time, Stewart said the individual teaches and mentors undergraduate students.
At the opening of the event, Stewart thanked Interim Provost Dr. Michael Harvey for the support of this program and all faculty and staff at the Rose O’Neill Literary House for co-sponsoring the Patrick Henry History Fellowship.
According to the WC website, Dr. Bay is currently the Roy F. and Jeanette P. Nichols Professor of American History at the University of Pennsylvania. Before beginning work there in 2018, Dr. Bay worked at Rutgers University, where she was a professor of history and the director of the Rutgers Center for Race and Ethnicity.
Dr. Bay graduated with a bachelor’s from the University of Toronto and holds a Ph.D. and Master of Philosophy from Yale University.
According to the WC website, Dr. Bay is “a scholar of American and African American intellectual, cultural and social history, whose recent interests include Black women’s thought, African American approaches to citizenship, and the history of race and transportation.”
“Dr. Mia Bay is truly one of the most distinguished historians we’ve ever had the pleasure of welcoming to the Starr Center,” Stewart said. During the event, Stewart called Dr. Bay “a leading contemporary scholar of the African American experience.”
According to Stewart, Dr. Bay has been the author or editor of seven books. During the event Dr. Bay discussed her most recently published book titled, “Traveling Black: A Story of Race and Resistance.”
According to the Starr Center email, The New York Times declared Dr. Bay’s book to be “excellent” and said it “deepens our understanding of not just where we are but how we got here.”
During the event, Dr. Bay said her book, “Traveling Black,” was inspired by a biography she had previously written about Ida B. Wells, “To Tell the Truth Freely: The Life of Ida B. Wells,” and also by what she personally witnessed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Dr. Bay cited Ida B. Wells’ activism — which began in the 1800s when Wells refused to give up her seat which was reserved for white women on a train — as “the origins and beginnings of segregation.”
“Scenes in Katrina really made me think of modern-day transportation inequities. In between that is this history of, ‘How did buses come to be segregated?’ ‘What happens on airplanes, what is it like for African American drivers?’” Dr. Bay said. “I just began researching that out of curiosity which led me to ‘Traveling Black.’ It was a very long process.”
“There’s Rosa Parks and the Freedom Riders, things that we hear a lot about. But civil rights is so much about mobility and that aspect I think is often overlooked, so I’m so glad that you’ve brought that to light here,” Stewart said.
According to Stewart, Dr. Bay is currently working on a new book titled, “The Ambidexter Philosopher: Thomas Jefferson in Black Thought, 1776-1877” which “explores African Americans’ ambivalent perspectives on that ambiguous founding father.”
Photo Courtesy of the Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience