Publication Date

June 19, 2020

Perspectives Section

Member Spotlight, Perspectives Daily


  • United States


African American, Public History

William King is professor emeritus of Afroamerican studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He lives in Lafayette, Colorado, and has been a member since 2006.

William King

Alma maters: BA (psychology), Kent State University, 1966; MA (urban studies), University of Akron, 1970; PhD (social sciences), Maxwell School, Syracuse University, 1974

Fields of interest: Afroamerican studies, citizenship and public affairs, transdisciplinary studies

Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today?

Curiosity, insatiable curiosity. Too, there was the realization that the longer I worked at something, the more I had to divest myself of the conceptual incarceration attendant to extended schooling with a biased master narrative always in the background coloring what I was learning. Whether I was working nights at Goodyear Tire & Rubber, as a public-school teacher, rehabilitation counselor, community organizer, whatever, I understood that what I was learning in college and graduate school was drawn from a fairly narrow universe of definition. This meant that a first task was to ascertain the limitations of the tools I was using. Accordingly, the further I went the more I sought out broader and broader concepts, methods and theories to illustrate and explain what I was after. I was less of an ideologue and more of an interdisciplinarian.

What do you like the most about where you live and work?

It’s comfortable, and for the most part, supplies what I want and need.

What projects are you currently working on?

For the last several years it has been the active pursuit of sloth. Other than that, I gravitate toward what interests me.

Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how?

No, not really. I started working in what would come to be called Afroamerican studies while in the Navy—you have a lot of time to read at sea. Since then, mostly broadening and deepening as I moved back and forth, around and about as the spirit moved me. Primarily, I am fascinated and motivated by Du Bois’s fundamental questions, their simplicity and complexity, and what is required to address them. Beyond the degrees I have, I find myself working more in the mode of John Henrik Clarke, who was one of my mentors.

What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research?

The reality that all too often, what gets saved is what will not make the saver look foolish, crazy, in error, et al.

Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?

First, Carter G. Woodson, Mis-education of the Negro. Second, Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

What do you value most about the history discipline?

I would say I use history more to contextualize what I am currently focused on doing, understanding that what is, is always a function of what was. I do not define myself as an historian given that I have no degrees in that endeavor; I long ago realized the dangers of remaining in any one academic discipline; working in Afroamerican studies has required me to be conversant with more than one field especially as it pertains to the many faces and tenacity of racism in America. My scholaring is about helping folk learn to tell their own stories more effectively.

AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, Perspectives Daily features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.

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Matthew Keough
Matthew Keough

American Historical Association