Agents of Change: African American Contributions to Writing Centers

Mendelsohn, Susan E.; Walker, Clarissa

African Americans and their contributions to our field’s first pedagogical models and operational structures are absent from writing center histories. This archival research invokes their presence by recounting the stories of five African American innovators—Bess Bolden “B. B.” Walcott, Coragreene Johnstone, Anne Cooke, Hugh Gloster, and Percival Bertrand “Bert” Phillips—spanning four decades at three historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Their stories invite an expansive understanding of writing center work, moving beyond a focus on traditional tutoring and strictly alphabetic literacies and into “strategic literacies”—the survival skills needed to stand up for oneself and one’s community in the face of dangerous times and violently racist places. The writing center leaders described here saw writing as a tool to be used in concert with embodied performances for expression and survival to advance struggles for labor equity, legal justice, and civil rights. This conception of writing center work springs from sites of research such as HBCU archives and popular Black press archives that are less often examined by dominant disciplinary histories. From those sites, a timeline of African American writing center administrators emerges that spurs further research of these under-studied figures, who together constitute a remarkable legacy.

Keywords: writing center studies, historically Black colleges and universities, composition studies history, higher education


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Also Published In

The Writing Center Journal

More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Published Here
November 21, 2022