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Who We Are

History and Mission

The idea of an organization designed to promote southern labor history goes back to 1966, when a group of Southern Historical Association (SHA) members who had been meeting annually decided to form their own organization called the Association of Southern Labor Historians (ASLH). By 1972 the ASLH had largely disbanded, but Merl E. Reed and Gary M. Fink, of Georgia State University, initiated a biennial conference to continue its past efforts. The Southern Labor History Conference—later named the Southern Labor Studies Conference—first met in Atlanta in the spring of 1976 and sponsored sessions with historians, activists, and labor leaders. Since then, labor activists and academics have met to exchange scholarship and experiences at the biennial Southern Labor Studies Conference.

In May 2007 at the joint conference convened at Duke University by the Labor and Working Class History Association (LAWCHA) and the Southern Labor Studies Conference, participants specializing in southern labor created the Southern Labor Studies Association to put the conference on a more secure footing. Professor Heather Thompson was elected as SLSA’s first president. Since then the association has expanded to promote the study, teaching, and preservation of the history of southern labor through a variety of activities.

The SLSA is affiliated with the Labor and Working-Class History Association and the Southern Historical Association.

The mission of the Southern Labor Studies Association is to promote the study, teaching, and preservation of the history of southern labor by activities that:

  • Encourage dialogue and discussion about key issues and events relevant to the past and present of labor in the U.S. South;
  • Enhance connections between academics and labor activists in the U.S. South;
  • Organize the Southern Labor Studies Conference as well as sessions on southern labor and working-class history at other venues;
  • Connect graduate students working on southern labor and working-class studies with one another and advanced scholars within and across academic disciplines;
  • Promote the preservation of materials related to southern labor and working class history;
  • Promote working-class history in public school curricula and provide resources for public school teachers.


Terms ending 2019

Greta de Jong, University of Nevada, Reno
Laurie Green, University of Texas
Adrienne Petty, College of William and Mary

Terms ending 2020
Joey Fink, High Point University
LaGuana Gray, University of Texas

Keri Leigh Merritt, Independent Scholar


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President | Robert Korstad, Duke University

Robert Korstad is Professor of Public Policy and History at Duke University. His research interests include twentieth century U.S. history, labor history, African American history, and contemporary social policy. Korstad’s publications include: To Right These Wrongs: The North Carolina Fund and the Battle to End Poverty and Inequality in 1960s America (with James L. Leloudis), Civil Rights Unionism: Tobacco Workers and the Struggle for Democracy in the Mid-Twentieth-Century South, Remembering Jim Crow: African Americans Talk About Life in the Segregated South (coeditor), and Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World (coauthor). 

Immediate Past President (Elections Chair) | Beth English, Princeton University

Beth English is a research associate and director of the Project on Women in the Global Community at the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. English’s research and teaching focus on historical and contemporary labor and working class issues, gender, social, cultural and political history, and the global South. She is the co-editor of Global Women’s Work in Transition: Perspectives on Gender and Work in the Global Economy (with Mary E. Frederickson and Olga Sanmiguel-Valderrama); author of A Common Thread: Labor, Politics, and Capital Mobility in the Textile Industry; and a contributing author to several edited volumes focusing on gender and on the U.S. South. Her recent articles include, “Global Women’s Work: Historical Perspectives on the Textile and Garment Industries” (Journal of International Affairs), and “La mort de Dixie? (The Death of Dixie?)” (Politique Américaine, with co-author Bryant Simon). Her article, “‘I . . . Have a Lot of Work to Do’: Cotton Mill Work and Women’s Culture in Matoaca, Virginia, 1888-1895” was recognized as one of the Organization of American Historians ’Best American History Essays of 2008 (David Roediger, ed.). Her research has been funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Vice-President (Interim) | Bryant Simon, Temple University

Bryant Simon is professor of history at Temple University. He is the author most recently of Boardwalk of Dreams: Atlantic City and the Fate of Urban America (2004), and Everything But the Coffee: Learning About America from Starbucks (2009). His research and scholarship has earned awards and honors from the Fulbright Commission, Humboldt Foundation, Urban History Association, Organization of American Historians, and the Smithsonian Institution. His work and popular commentary have been featured in the New Yorker, Washington Post, New Republic, and numerous other outlets. Over last five years, Simon has lectured around the world and taught at the National University of Singapore, University of Tubingen, and University of Erfurt, and has served as a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians. Simon’s current work focuses on food and society. 

Secretary | Jessica Wilkerson, University of Mississippi

Jessie Wilkerson is Assistant Professor in History and Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi. She is currently working on her manuscript, Where Movements Meet: From the War on Poverty to Grassroots Feminism in the Appalachian South. Since joining the faculty at U of M, she has been learning about current labor struggles in Mississippiincluding the organizing efforts of Nissan workersand is eager to find ways to support southern labor struggles through teaching, writing, public history projects, and networking with SLSA members.

Graduate Representative | David (Mac) Marquis, College of William and Mary

CONTACT Southern Labor Studies Association 

c/o Erik Gellman, SLSA/UNC Liaison

Department of History

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

102 Emerson Drive, CB #3195

Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3195

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