Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts

George and Ann RichardsCivil War Era Center

Colored Conventions
Crystal Sanders
Crystal Sanders

Crystal Sanders

Associate Professor of History and African American Studies
Director, Africana Research Center
311 Weaver Building, University Park , PA 16802


  • PhD, Northwestern University, 2011
  • MA, Northwestern University, 2006
  • BA, Duke University, 2005


I am a historian of the modern United States with research interests in African American History, Southern History, and the History of Black Education.  My scholarly work joins a growing body of literature that moves beyond “the two-dimensional story of oppression and submission” during the Jim Crow era of segregation and black disfranchisement to explore African Americans’ everyday acts of resistance and resiliency throughout the twentieth century in efforts to secure the rights and privileges of American citizenship.  The University of North Carolina Press published my first book, A Chance for Change: Head Start and Mississippi’s Black Freedom Struggle, in 2016 as part of its John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture.  The book considers how the Child Development Group of Mississippi (CDGM), a federal Head Start program for low-income preschoolers, produced a political battle between poor black mothers and grandmothers and white southern congressmen. Between 1965 and 1968, Mississippi’s black working-class participants collaborated with the federal government to seek bottom-up change in the most repressive state in the country. They moved beyond teaching shapes and colors to challenge the state’s closed political system and white supremacist ideology.

Recent Publications:

A Chance for Change: Head Start and Mississippi’s Black Freedom Struggle (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016).

“More Than Cookies and Crayons: Head Start Programs and African American Empowerment in Mississippi, 1965-1968,” Journal of African American History 100 (Fall 2015): 586-609.

“Blue Water, Black Beach: The North Carolina Teachers Association and Hammocks Beach in the Age of Jim Crow,” North Carolina Historical Review XCII (April 2015): 145-164.

“North Carolina Justice On Display:  Governor Bob Scott and the 1968 Benson Affair,” Journal of Southern HistoryLXXIX (August 2013): 659-680.

Awards and Service:

2017 New Scholars Book Award, American Educational Research Association, Division F
2017-2018 National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Fellowship

2015-2016 Archie K. Davis Fellowship, North Caroliniana Society
2013-2014 Visiting Scholar, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
2013-2014 National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship (declined)
2012 C. Vann Woodward Dissertation Prize, Southern Historical Association
2012 Claude A. Eggertsen Dissertation Prize, History of Education Society

Recent Courses:

HIST 021 – American Civilization Since 1877
History 152 – African American History
History 302W
History 465 – The Post-World War II Civil Rights Movement

Research Interests:

20th Century US History, African American History, History of Black Education

Areas of Specialization:

Twentieth Century U.S.: