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Dorothy Roberts wins ACLS Fellowship for study on interracial marriage

March 09, 2015

Penn Law professor Dorothy E. Roberts has been awarded an American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Fellowship for her book project, Interracial Marriage and Racial Equality in Chicago, 1937–1967.

The ACLS Fellowship program funds scholars in the humanities and social sciences so they can devote themselves full time to researching and writing a major piece of scholarship.

Roberts is the George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology, the Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights, and professor of Africana Studies. She is also the 14th Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor, as well as the Director of the Program on Race, Science, and Society.

“Professor Roberts is and has been producing groundbreaking research on race, gender, and the law,” said Wendell Pritchett, Interim Dean of the Law School and Presidential Professor. “This well-deserved award will allow her to advance important scholarship on interracial marriage and politics in America.”

Roberts’s project is a study of the experiences and views of interracial couples in Chicago from 1937 to 1967 in the context of intensifying challenges to the racial order that occurred during that period.

The research is a deeply personal for Roberts because her book uses approximately 500 interviews of interracial couples that her father conducted in Chicago for more than four decades. Her father, who was white, was an anthropologist, and her mother, who was black, was a PhD student in anthropology when Roberts was born.

“It is an honor to receive this fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies,” said Roberts. “The extraordinary archive my father compiled allows for incredible insight into changing race relations and politics in Chicago, as well as an intimate look into how interracial couples understood their own marriages during this period of dramatic social change.”

Roberts is particularly interested in the role intermarriage has played in perpetuating and contesting racial inequality. She says that her father believed that interracial marriage could be a strategy for overcoming racism, but her scholarship doesn’t assume that interracial marriage either hinders or advances racial equality.

Roberts’s previous books include Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-Create Race in the Twenty-First Century, which explores the resurgence of race as a biological category in science, medicine, and biotechnology; Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty; Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare; Frug’s Women and the Law; and Sex, Power, and Taboo: Gender and HIV in the Caribbean and Beyond.

ACLS is a private, nonprofit federation of 72 national scholarly organizations, representing American scholarship in the humanities and related social sciences. In 2013–14, ACLS awarded over $15 million to nearly 300 scholars selected from more than 3,000 applications.