Randal Maurice Jelks, PhD

Professor of American Studies and African and African-American Studies
Primary office:
Bailey Hall, 213N


Randal Maurice Jelks is an awarding winning Professor of American Studies and African and African American Studies at the University of Kansas. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan (BA), McCormick Theological Seminary (MDiv) and Michigan State University (PhD).Jelks has authored two award winning books African Americans in the Furniture City: The Struggle for Civil Rights Struggle in Grand Rapids (The University of Illinois Press, 2006), which won the 2006 State History Award, University and Commercial Press, Historical Society of Michigan and Benjamin Elijah Mays, Schoolmaster of the Movement: A Biography (University of North Carolina Press 2012), winner of the 2013 Lillian Smith Book Award and the 2013 Literary Award, Black Caucus of the American Library Association. Jelks has most recently written Faith and Struggle in the Lives of Four African Americans: Ethel Waters, Mary Lou Williams, Eldridge Cleaver and Muhammad Ali (Bloomsbury, January 2019). He has participated in The Oxford Conference for the Book, University of Mississippi; South Florida Book Festival; Southern Book Festival (Nashville), appeared on C-Span, and written op eds in media outlets around the country. He is currently researching and writing several other books Additionally, Jelks serves as an executive producer of documentary I, Too, Sing America: Langston Hughes Unfurled directed by academy award winning screenwriter and filmmaker Kevin Willmott.


M.Div., McCormick Theological Seminary
Ph.D., History, Comparative Black History Program, Michigan State University


Philosophically I approach teaching American Studies and African and African American Studies from the perspective that the classroom or seminar is a discursive space to foster new insights, wise practices, and democratic social engagement. My scholarly research on American religion, Religion in Africa's Diasporas as well as Social Movements histories informs my instruction by providing me with new materials, methodological queries, and insights. Sharing my research with students on America's histories and cultural confluences leads me to my ultimate objective, which is to assist students in wise deliberations regarding our respective humanity as individuals and the multiple environmental factors that structure our human planetary existence.

Classroom Teaching

My first task as a teacher is to engage students' minds by building a classroom setting that fosters a discursive community where ideas are respectfully exchanged, content knowledge enhanced, and skills of critical analysis are honed. Regularly I begin all classes by affirming students' intellects and challenging them to bring their focused minds and articulate voices into the classroom. I attempt to accomplish these things through organized syllabi, challenging readings, philosophical queries, engaged lectures and thoughtful assignments in and outside of the class or seminar.

Teaching Interests

  • American Religion
  • American Social Movements, Civil Rights
  • African Studies
  • African American Studies
  • Religions in the African Diaspora


My Ph.D. training was in Comparative history Black Histories with subfields in American Religious History and Continental Philosophy. The major focus of my research is American religion in terms of its cultural usage in American politics and social movements. As a historian I explore how ideas surrounding race, gender, and social class are influenced by religious faith and belief in the United States, Caribbean, and Africa. I am especially interested in how these ideas affect African Americans as they attempt to escape the restrictive boundaries of race

Research Interests

  • African American Religion
  • American Religion
  • American Social Movements
  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Religions in the Africa Diaspora

Selected Presentations

Jelks, R. (2/8/2017 - 2/9/2017). Dear Martin: How Do We Build Democracy in an Anti-democratic Age?. Elmhurst College, Naperville, Illinois. http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/arlington-heights/community/chi-ug...
Jelks, R. (10/19/2016). I Am Free to Be Want I Want: The Role of Roman Catholicism in the Inner Lives of Ethel Waters, Mary Lou Williams, and Eldridge Cleaver'.'. Part of the Fall 2016 series of the Ramonat Seminar in American Catholic History and Culture. Loyola University, Chicago, Illinis. http://lucweb.luc.edu/newsevents/public/calendar_detail.cfm?eventid=8494...
Jelks, R. M. (10/16/2013). The Social Gospel in Black and White: Benjamin Elijah Mays and the Redemption of America from Its Racist Past. Dean of Seaver College, DISTINGUISHED LECTURE SERIES. Malibu, California. https://seaver.pepperdine.edu/dean/lectureseries/pages/20131016.htm

Selected Grants

Documentary Film: Langston's Lawrence. Watkins Museum/Douglas County Historical Society. Submitted 1/1/2017. State of Kansas. Status: Funded

Selected Awards & Honors

2013 Lillian Smith Book Award
University of Georgia Libraries; Georgia Center for the Book/Dekalb Public Library; Southern Regional Council
2013 BCALA Literary Award for Nonfiction from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association
University of North Carolina Press
2013 Faith and Learning Award Presented by the Calvin Alumni Association to recognize Calvin's Outstanding Faculty
Calvin College
2013 Faith and Learning Award Presented by the Calvin Alumni Association to recognize Calvin's Outstanding Faculty
Calvin College
John C. Wright Graduate Mentoring Award
College of Liberal Arts and Science, University of Kansas
Giants Award, Hattie Beverly Award Winner for Education
Grand Rapids Community College
2006 State History Award, University and Commercial Press, Historical Society of Michigan
University of Illinois Press
Calvin College Community Partnership Award
Calvin College

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