LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas Libraries have announced that Brandon Byrd, author and associate professor of history at Vanderbilt University, has been selected as the recipient of the 2023 Alyce Hunley Whayne Visiting Researchers Travel Award for his interest in studying the history of the African American experience in Kansas, particularly for use in a biography of Benjamin “Pap” Singleton.
The Whayne Scholars Program supports visiting scholars and researchers from across the country conducting research requiring the use of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s African American Experience materials in the Kansas Collection. The African American Experience holds a significant number of historical materials including books, images, personal papers and government documents. The Whayne Scholars Program funds travel expenses for researchers to stay in Lawrence as they explore the materials at Spencer.
“The program enables us to highlight what we have here in the African American Experience collection,” said Deborah Dandridge, field archivist and curator of African American Experience Collections at the Spencer Research Library. “Often, student and faculty researchers also use materials from the Kansas Collection, University Archives and Special Collections. A lot of our resources have some connection in some form or fashion to African American studies, and this program is an effort to give opportunity and access for researchers from all over the world.”
Byrd's project is a book called “Pap: The Life and Lesson of Benjamin Singleton.” He hopes to develop a fuller picture of Singleton by working with the Nicodemus Historical Society records and other collections to understand the broader story of the exodusters and Black Kansas.
“For Singleton and the thousands of Black women, men and children whose ambitions he came to represent, there was one place above all others where Black southerners could finally have peace and prosperity,” Byrd wrote in his proposal and as description of his upcoming book. “It was Kansas, the land of John Brown, open prairies and what Black southerners hoped was good opportunity.”
Byrd’s book aims to “tell the story of the self-proclaimed leader of the great ‘Exodus’ of Black people from the post-emancipation U.S. South to Kansas.” Byrd previously published a book called “The Black Republic: African Americans and the Fate of Haiti” and served as co-editor for “Ideas in Unexpected Places: Reimagining Black Intellectual History” in addition to published scholarship in a number of journals and popular magazines.
Byrd will visit Lawrence and the Spencer Research Library in the coming weeks and will present his findings at the end of his stay in a public presentation at 3 p.m. May 24 in the Johnson Room at Spencer Research Library.
The Whayne Scholars Program is made possible by support from KU Professor Emerita Sandra Gautt in honor of her mother, Alyce Hunley Whayne.
“I’m looking forward to learning more through Dr. Byrd’s research and presentation,” said Beth Whittaker, KU Libraries interim co-dean and director of Spencer Research Library. “We’re so grateful to Sandra for enabling us to make these connections between the materials in Spencer Library and researchers. When a scholar has a large research project that requires consulting a lot of material, funds such as this are very useful, since it’s difficult to do that work remotely.”
More information about KU Libraries’ travel awards can be found on the Kenneth Spencer Research Library website.