AHA Member Spotlight: Nichole Nelson
Nichole Nelson is a senior policy advisor at the National Community Reinvestment Coalition. She lives in Washington, DC, and has been a member since 2013.
Alma maters: BA, University of Pennsylvania, 2011; MA, Vanderbilt University, 2014; MA, Yale University, 2016; MPhil, Yale University, 2016; PhD, Yale University, 2020
Fields of interest: 20th-century America, African American, urban
Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today?
During my last year of my PhD program, I applied for the Mellon/ACLS Public Fellows fellowship. The great thing about this fellowship is that it prepares humanities PhDs for nonacademic careers, and matches them with a host institution where they can learn invaluable skills in their chosen field. I was fortunate to receive the fellowship and be paired with the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. At the institute, I worked on initiatives to increase the homeownership rate for Black and Brown New Jerseyans. I think that what helped make me legible to the institute was that my dissertation on the Fair Housing Movement was closely related to some of the policy work at the institute. Some of the initiatives that I helped advocate for involved fair housing techniques such as combating discrimination in home appraisals.
My work at the institute prepared me for my current career as a senior policy advisor at the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, where I work to advance economic and racial justice.
What do you like the most about where you live and work?
I love that I live in a city that contains so much of the nation’s history as well as serves as the heart of its government. It represents the marriage of my two intellectual loves—American history and public policy. It is great to walk down the streets and see so many museums (especially the Museum of African American History and Culture) as well as organizations dedicated to improving the nation’s fate.
I also love how vibrant the city is. Washington, DC, is such a walking city. I love seeing people out, having fun, and enjoying themselves.
What projects are you currently working on?
Since the publication of my article, “Fractures within Fair Housing: The Battle for the Memory and Legacy of the Fair Housing Movement” in the Journal of Urban History in May 2023, I have been taking a short break. Speaking of which, my article examines the contradictory ideology of many activists involved in the Fair Housing Movement. They fought to end housing discrimination and racial residential segregation, yet did not believe that African American communities were worthy of reinvestment, and instead advocated for African Americans to move to white neighborhoods as the sole way to access decent jobs, housing, and education. This particular group of activists’ limited imaginations foreclosed efforts to eradicate and not merely placate white supremacy in the housing market at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Despite their missteps, more radical activists emerged and advocated for reinvestment in African American communities and their continued efforts offer hope that true reinvestment in African-American communities can be achieved in the present.
After this break, I will return to turning my dissertation into a book. My article is based on one of my dissertation chapters, and my manuscript will provide a more in-depth look at the themes that my dissertation and article explore.
What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research?
I found the wife of one of my mentors mentioned in an archive. I scanned the document and shared it with her. I was happy to bring a smile to her face.
Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?
In addition to my article, “Fractures within Fair Housing,” I have a few articles and books that I would like to recommend such as Amanda Boston’s article “‘Manufacturing Distress’: Race, Redevelopment, and the EB-5 Program in Central Brooklyn” and Walter Greason’s Illmatic Consequences: The Clapback to Opponents of “Critical Race Theory.” I also recommend Keisha Blain’s Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Enduring Message to America. I also look forward to Clemmie L. Harris’s Reconstructing Philadelphia: The Persistence of Racism and the African American Struggle for Political Power and Civil Rights in the Urban North when it is published, and work from Anthony Pratcher when it is published as well.
What do you value most about the history discipline?
I love that our discipline is focused on preserving the truth. History, and by extension the truth, are under attack right now. I believe that it is important that we all have a set of facts that we agree on. I think that we need, as the AHA needs, to do everything that it can to preserve the proper teaching of American history and in particular African American history (the history of people enslaved in the United States and their descendants) in K–12 education and college campuses.
Why is membership in the AHA important to you?
AHA membership is important to me because I value being part of an organization that advocates for both historical education in K-12 education and at colleges and universities. History is political and we as historians need to work together to ensure that the politics of today does not erase, water down, and whitewash the history that students learn in the future.
Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share?
Spending time with friends who are also fellow historians at the 2020 American Historical Association meeting in New York City is something that I will not forget because just a few months later, the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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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