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Morehead-Cain Alumni Associate Professor


B.A., History, Spelman College; M.A., African American Studies and Ph.D., U.S. History, University of California, Los Angeles.

Teaching and Research Interests:

History of enslaved and free Black people in the American South; slavery, emancipation, and Reconstruction; Black women’s political thought; African Americans and the Law (legal culture); African American marriage and family; African American biography; and archival methods.

Current Research:

Brandi C. Brimmer specializes in African American social and political history. She has spent over a decade engaged in archival research aimed at recovering the voices of Black people—both free and enslaved—from the American Civil War archive. Her book, Claiming Union Widowhood: Race, Respectability, and Poverty in the Post-Emancipation South (Duke University Press, December 2020), investigates poor and working-class Black women’s approaches to the law and governmental institutions during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Listen to an overview of the book featured on the Academic Minute (National Public Radio): Black Union Widows and the Battle for Survivors' Benefits in Post-Civil War America, (March 5, 2021) (link).

Brimmer’s is working on a new book project, The Other Douglass: Frederick C. Douglass, A Black Freedom Fighter in the Post-emancipation South, which tells the story of Black attorneys and claims agents who represented the petitions of disabled black veterans and the widows of black soldiers to the U.S. Pension Bureau.

Brimmer’s scholarly articles that have appeared in the Journal of Southern History and the Journal of the Civil War Era. Her research has been supported by the National Humanities Center, the African American History, Culture, and Digital Humanities Project at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Benjamin Quarles Humanities Institute at Morgan State University, the College of Liberal Arts at Case Western University, the Ford Foundation, and the North Caroliniana Society. Prior to joining the faculty at UNC-CH, she was an assistant editor at the Freedmen and Southern Society Project at the University of Maryland, College Park and taught at Morgan State University and Spelman College.

Select Publications

Claiming Union Widowhood: Race, Respectability, and Poverty in the Post-Emancipation South (Duke University Press, 2020).

“Black Women’s Politics, Narratives of Sexual Immorality, and Pension Bureaucracy in Mary Lee’s North Carolina Neighborhood,” Journal of Southern History 80:4 (November 2014): 827–58.

“‘Her Claim for Pension Is Lawful and Just’: Representing Black Union Widows in Late-Nineteenth Century North Carolina,” Journal of the Civil War Era 1:2 (June 2011): 207–36. Included in special digital issue, “Race, Politics, and Justice: Selected Articles from the Journal of the Civil War Era,” July 2020.

Recent Awards

National Humanities Fellow, AY 2020-21.