History and Art History

College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Suzanne E. Smith

Suzanne E. Smith

Suzanne E. Smith

Professor

African American, 20th century Cultural History, History of Death in America, American Popular Music

Suzanne E. Smith received her Ph.D. from Yale University. She specializes in African American history with a particular interest in exploring how the history of African American entrepreneurship can transform our understanding of African American culture.  Her current research agenda focuses on the history of African American religion in modern America. She regularly teaches courses in African American history, American popular music, and civil rights and citizenship.

Her first book, Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit (Harvard University Press, 1999), examines Motown and its relationship to the black community of Detroit and the civil rights movement. Her second book, To Serve the Living: Funeral Directors and the African American Way of Death (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010), explores the central role of funeral directors in African American life and was a finalist for Best Non-Fiction at the Library of Virginia’s 14th Annual Literary Awards.

Professor Smith has done numerous interviews for National Public Radio, C-Span, and the BBC as well as public lectures at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Berklee College of Music, and the National Funeral Directors Association Annual Meeting. She has also contributed to various public history projects including the film Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring for the American Experience series on PBS, and the series, I’ll Make Me A World: African American Arts in the Twentieth Century, from Blackside Productions.

Current Research

Professor Smith is currently on leave with a research fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities to work on her new book project tentatively titled, The “Happy Am I” Preacher: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Elder Lightfoot Solomon Michaux.

Selected Publications

To Serve the Living: Funeral Directors and the African American Way of Death (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010).

Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit (Harvard University Press, 1999).

“‘Where Did Our Love Go?’: Contemplating the Life and Death of Motown and the Motor City,” Michigan Quarterly Review, (Fall 2010).

 “To Serve the Living: The Public and Civic Identity of African-American Funeral Directors” in Public Culture: Diversity, Democracy, and Community in the United States. Marguerite S. Schaffer, Editor (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008).

 “‘Laid Out in Big Mama’s Kitchen’: African Americans and the Personalized Theme Funeral,” in American Behavioral History. Peter N. Stearns, Editor (New York University Press, 2005).

 “‘Boogie Chillen’: Uncovering Detroit’s African American Cultural History.” Michigan Historical Review 27:1 (Spring 2001): 93-107.

Courses Taught

African American History Survey, Transatlantic Slave Trade to Present

U.S. History Survey, Colonial Era to Present

American Roots Music

American Popular Music

Medical Ethics in Twentieth Century America

Race, Justice, and Memory in Twentieth Century America

Grassroots Politics in Twentieth Century America

Civil Rights and Citizenship in Twentieth Century America

African Americans in Sports

Radio in American Society

The Civil Rights Movement and the Culture Industry

The Media in Contemporary America

The History and Culture of New Zealand and Australia 

Dissertations Supervised

Celeste Sharpe, "They Need You!: Disability, Visual Culture, and the Poster Child, 1945-1980," In progress.

Jennifer Lansbury, “Champions Indeed : The Emergence of African American Women Athletes in American society, 1930-1960,” Spring 2008.

Recent Presentations

"The Global Mission of Elder Lightfoot Solomon Michaux's Radio Church of God" Organization of American Historians Conference, San Francisco, California, April 12, 2013.

"The 'Happy Am I' Preacher: Elder Lightfoot Solomon Michaux and the Birth of Radio Evangelism," Religion and American Life Conference, King's College, London, England, February 23, 2013.

“To Serve the Living: Funeral Directors and the African American Way of Death,” New Jersey State Funeral Directors Convention, Atlantic City, New Jersey, September 18-19, 2012

The ‘Happy Am I’ Preacher: The Entrepreneurial Vision of Elder Lightfoot Solomon Michaux,” Religion and the Marketplace in the United States Conference, Heidelberg Center for American Studies, The University of Heidelberg, October 6, 2011.

 “My Man’s An Undertaker: Funeral Directors in the African American Cultural Imagination,” Russell B. Nye Distinguished Lecture, American Studies Program, Michigan State University, March 16, 2011.

“‘Where Did Our Love Go?’: Contemplating the Life and Death of Motown and the Motor City,” Public lecture, Motown Symposium: “Growing Up Motown: Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and the Making of Motown,” University of Michigan, February 19, 2010.

 

In the Media

Radio interview, "Motown: Speaking in the Streets," BBC Radio 4, January 9, 2014.

Televised class, "The Murder of Emmett Till," Lectures in History, C-Span TV, March 21, 2013.

Television interview, Discussion of To Serve the Living: Funeral Directors and the African American Way of Death, C-Span-TV, George Mason University Interviews, September, 16, 2011

Radio interview, "A.G. Gaston: From Log Cabin to Funeral Home Mogul," Morning Edition, National Public Radio, December 21, 2010.

Radio interview, Discussion of To Serve the Living: Funeral Directors and the African American Way of Death, “The Kojo Nnamdi Show,” WAMU 88.5 FM, March 24, 2010.

Radio interview, Discussion of To Serve the Living: Funeral Directors and the African American Way of Death, “With Good Reason,” Virginia Public Radio, February 6-11, 2010.

Print interview, “Honoring the Dead is Disturbed at Burr Oak,” Chicago Tribune, July 19, 2009.