Eastern Michigan University history professor Mary-Elizabeth Murphy receives inaugural Kirk and Sharon Profit Social Justice Fellowship

Funded research to focus on struggle Jewish and African Americans faced in dealing with interstate busing segregation; fellowship established by longtime EMU supporters Kirk and Sharon Profit

Mary-Elizabeth Murphy
Mary-Elizabeth Murphy

YPSILANTI – Mary-Elizabeth Murphy, an associate professor of history and women and gender studies at Eastern Michigan University, has been named the inaugural recipient of a social justice fellowship funded by longtime EMU supporters Kirk and Sharon Profit.

The fellowship will enable Murphy to conduct research on her book project, entitled, “Before the Freedom Riders: African Americans, Bus Companies, and Black Protest Politics.” 

A portion of her research illuminates the ways that Jewish Americans – including judges, lawyers, advocacy organizations, and ordinary citizens – protested racial segregation on interstate buses in the 1920s 1930s and 1940s.  Jewish Americans banded together with African Americans at a moment of heightened anti-Semitism, and Murphy hopes to explore the connections between the migrations of African Americans out of the south and the immigration of Jewish Americans to the United States.

“I am honored to receive the Kirk and Sharon Profit Social Justice Fellowship, which will enable me to travel to archives across the country and research this important alliance between Jewish Americans and African Americans,” Murphy said. “Many of my cases come from Michigan and Illinois, and I am eager to share my research findings with EMU students and the southeastern Michigan community.”

Partnering with EMU’s Center for Jewish Studies

Murphy will work In partnership with EMU’s Center for Jewish Studies. That work will focus on addressing social justice and/or injustices related to the Jewish experience, including Jewish interrelations with the civil rights movement; Jews and the labor movement; Jewish, Christian, and Muslim relations; Jews and the struggle for refugee rights and Jews and education.

Murphy joined Eastern in 2013, having previously taught for two years at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Her research specialties include African American History, U.S. Women’s History, and U.S. Social and Political History.

Her first book, “Jim Crow Capital: Women and Black Freedom Struggles in Washington, D.C., 1920-1945” (University of North Carolina Press, 2018), examined the ways that working-class and middle-class black women in the nation’s capital waged an early civil rights movement focused on economic justice, legal equality, and safety from violence.

Murphy’s wide range of undergraduate and graduate course topics at Eastern include areas such as U.S. women’s history, black American history, periods in U.S. history, the history of sexuality and research methods and methodologies. The past two years, her research methods students have collaborated with EMU’s University Archives and produced major papers using archival materials.

Profit Fellowship highlights EMU’s community commitment

The Kirk and Sharon Profit Social Justice Fellowship, established this year, will annually provide an individual or a team of EMU full-time lecturers, tenure track and/or tenured faculty an opportunity to engage in public research focused on issues of justice touching on racial, gender, religious, economic or other related areas. Kirk Profit, a former state representative and Ypsilanti High School and EMU alumnus, presently works as a lobbyist in Lansing.

The 2020 fellowship is also supported by Engage@EMU and the EMU Center for Jewish Studies.

“EMU was recently cited for its exceptional community engagement by the Carnegie Foundation, and The Social Justice Fellowship reinforces that classification and underscores one of the University’s central missions, which is to benefit the local and global communities,” said theater professor Decky Alexander, director of academic engagement programs at Engage @ EMU.

For more information on Eastern’s community engagement efforts please see the engage website.

About Eastern Michigan University

Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest public university in Michigan. It currently serves nearly 18,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Engineering and Technology; Health and Human Services; and, its graduate school. EMU is regularly recognized by national publications for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website.

January 22, 2020

Written by:
Geoff Larcom

Geoff Larcom