For the past few months, I have had the pleasure of processing the papers of Dr. Mab Segrest, a leading feminist writer, activist, scholar, and speaker, who has traveled the United States and around the world fighting for social justice. Her papers are a foundational collection for the Sallie Bingham Center and a valuable resource for the study of feminism, race, class, sexuality, and gender, as well as literary theory and social movement history.
Filling 124 boxes and spanning from 1889 to the present, the materials document many aspects of Dr. Segrest’s personal and professional history. In the series related to her family, there are a variety of valuable materials, including correspondence from the Panama Canal, Civil War portraits, and artifacts from her childhood in Tuskegee, Alabama. Professional materials include everything from correspondence, teaching files, and organizational records to drafts and research materials from her most famous published works, Memoir of a Race Traitor (1994) and My Mama’s Dead Squirrel (1985).
The largest section of the papers document Dr. Segrest’s wide-ranging activism, especially her work with North Carolinians Against Racist and Religious Violence (NCARRV), a public interest organization she co-founded in 1983 that rallied citizens against an epidemic of hate violence in this state. NCARRV files contain public communications as well as materials documenting strategy for on-the-ground activism in which she played a central role.
Dr. Segrest’s papers are a great testament to her long-standing commitment to education. Her teaching career started in 1971 when she accepted a position at Campbell University while working on her Ph.D. dissertation (earned at Duke University in 1979). Dr. Segrest has also taught courses at UNC Chapel Hill and Duke. She taught at Connecticut College from 2002 to 2014 where she was the Fuller-Maathai Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies. Most recently Dr. Segrest has taught at both Emory University and Georgia College while researching the history of Georgia’s state mental hospital in Milledgeville.
There is a good deal of connection among the different dimensions of this collection. In particular, it is impossible to separate Dr. Segrest’s work as an activist from her many academic accomplishments as these parts of her life have informed and shaped one another. When processing a person’s papers, it is impossible not to feel connected to them in some sense. I’m moved by Dr. Segrest’s enormous resolve and courage, and my time with her papers has increased my appreciation of her work and her dedication to activism and social justice.
The Mab Segrest Papers are an incredibly deep and rich resource within the Bingham Center and the Rubenstein Library. It has been a privilege to work with this collection and it is exciting to imagine the scores of students, scholars, and others whose work will be informed by these materials.
Post contributed by Rachel Sanders, intern for the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture.