S4, Episode 1

In This Episode

November 6, 2023: A Conversation with Historian of the Working People Naomi R Williams

“Centering the voice of working people is so important to the work that I do.” -Dr. Williams

Photo of Professor Naomi R. Williams

In this episode, host Augustus Wood talks to Labor Studies professor—and self-described “historian of the working people”—Naomi R Williams (Rutgers University), whose research in southeast Wisconsin labor history sheds new light on the pivotal role of Black workers in forging and leveraging union solidarity in the 1970s and 80s. Throughout their work, Williams emphasizes the importance of keeping workers' voices at the center—especially those typically missing from the historical narrative. As Wood says, “Those of us that do this kind of work, we see the people as the engines of history, the living archive.”

Some of the books noted during their conversation include Civil Rights Unionism: Tobacco Workers and the Struggle for Democracy in the Mid-Twentieth-Century South by Robert R. Korstad, Continually Working: Black Women, Community Intellectualism, and Economic Justice in Postwar Milwaukee by Crystal Moten, and The Future We Need: Organizing for a Better Democracy in the 21st Century by Erica Smiley and Sarita Gupta.


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About the Guest

Naomi R Williams is an assistant professor of Labor Studies and Employment Relations at Rutgers University. They received a PhD from the History Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Their primary research interests include labor and working-class history, urban history and politics, gender and women, race and politics, and more broadly, social and economic movements of working people. Williams’s primary focus is on late-capitalism at the end of the 20th century and workers’ role in shaping U.S. political economy. Currently, they are revising a book manuscript, tentatively titled A Blueprint for Worker Solidarity: Race, Labor, and Community in Wisconsin, on the transformation of class identity and politics in the second half of the twentieth century.