Centering Black Women in Intellectual History

Written by
Nyasha Junior

Sep 30, 2020

Sep 30, 2020 • by Nyasha Junior

Black women are unapologetically at the center of Dr. Stephanie Evans' work. Evans is an expert in Black women's intellectual history. As a historian, Evans situates her teaching and research within a service tradition of Black women educators such as Anna Julia Cooper and Mary McLeod Bethune. Like these pioneering women, Evans uses her work to uplift and amplify Black women and their contributions.


Evans earned her PhD in Afro‐American studies at the University of Massachusetts‐Amherst in 2003. In 2019, she came to Georgia State University, where she is a professor of Black women's studies. Evans also serves as director of the Institute for Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies. Prior to coming to Georgia State University, Evans taught at Clark Atlanta University GA and the University of Florida.

Evans has written two solo‐authored books. Her first book, Black Women in the Ivory Tower, 1850–1954: An Intellectual History (2007), traces how Black women gained access to formal education in the United States. In her second book, Black Passports: Travel Memoirs as a Tool for Youth Empowerment (2014), Evans offers narratives of Black international travel to inspire young people in setting and attaining goals. Also, she was lead co‐editor of three books, including African Americans and Community Engagement in Higher Education (2009), Black Women's Mental Health: Balancing Strength and Vulnerability (2017) and Black Women and Social Justice Education (2019).

Evans is especially proud of two commemorative projects. While serving as chair of the Department of African American Studies, Africana Women's Studies, and History at Clark Atlanta University, she initiated and organized the W.E.B. Du Bois Legacy Project in 2013. This project celebrated the life and scholarship of Du Bois on the 50th anniversary of his death. Also, at the 2015 Founders Week Celebration, Evans hosted events to honor the life and work of poet and activist Sonia Sanchez. This celebration included the dedication of the Sonia Sanchez Peace Benches at CAU.

Current Scholarship

In her work on intellectual history, Evans uses memoirs as primary sources. These sources stand at the intersection of history and literature and provide a means of understanding how Black women reflected on their lives. Her forthcoming book, Black Women's Yoga History: Memoirs of Inner Peace (SUNY Press), highlights Black women's use of yoga and other movement and meditation practices. This may seem to be a departure from her previous work, but for Evans, it is in keeping with her focus on Black women's voices. She regards memoir as the connective thread of her work. She offers, “When I expanded my focus beyond higher education, moving from intellectual health to mental and emotional health seemed a natural progression for my interest in how Black women write about ideas.”

Evans uses the notion of “historical wellness” to analyze how Black women have employed yoga, exercise and other practices in pursuit of self‐care. Evans offers work by Harriet Jacobs, Sadie and Bessie Delany, Tina Turner and others as case studies to understand how various Black women attempted to manage stress. She explains, “I turned my lens to question how memoirs reveal solutions to the problem of the mental duress caused by marginalization, exclusion and oppression in higher education and other areas.” Evans wrote a haiku that encapsulates her research trajectory:

Black women's ideas

Can help solve global problems

At least, they solved mine.

Life and work have merged for Evans. She admits, “My success in academe is directly attributable to the lessons I learned while writing Black Women in the Ivory Tower. I'm finding the same is true with Black Women's Yoga History.” Her research has influenced her personal wellness journey. She confesses, “COVID has been an exceptional challenge. Had I not established my yoga practice, I would have not made it through spring and summer in one piece.”

Evans encourages women in the academy to make self‐care a priority. She recommends that scholars read for spiritual growth as much as for intellectual growth. Noting the additional service burdens and exclusion of Black women faculty, she finds that contemporary Black women academics share similar frustrations as their counterparts over 100 years ago. In order to cope, Evans advises, “Find what helps you breathe and do that.”

Digital Projects

In addition to her print publication efforts, Evans serves as a curator for digital humanities projects such as the Black Women's Studies Booklist ( This peer‐reviewed site identifies classic and newer works within critical race and gender scholarship. She also has sites that document memoir ( and Black women's music ( Such efforts flow from Evans' commitments as an educator. She hopes to make research accessible to a wider audience and to draw attention to Black women's scholarship.

Evans has a Twitter account (@Prof_Evans). She uses it in moderation and takes social media breaks periodically. Still, Evans finds that social media provides access to Black women scholars in a variety of fields who provide invaluable insight. Recently, the hashtag #BlackIntheIvory brought renewed attention to her first book Black Women in the Ivory Tower. Started by Dr. Shardé M. Davis and Joy Melody Woods, the hashtag provided a space for Black people in the academy to share their experiences. Some Twitter users connected the hashtag to Evans' work. In June 2020, the Black Women's Studies Association hosted a webinar with Evans, Davis and Woods to highlight themes in the book and their ongoing relevance in today's academy. Evans says, “It was so satisfying to get to share my original work with a new generation.”

Photo credit: Minta Wood Morris