A photograph of Harriet Tubman currently found at the National Museum of African American Culture and History.



CHERYL TOWNSEND GILKES (Pronounced “Jillks”) is the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor of African-American Studies and Sociology and director of the African American Studies Program at Colby College (Waterville, Maine). An ordained Baptist minister, she is an assistant pastor for special projects at the Union Baptist Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She holds degrees in sociology from Northeastern University (B.A.,M.A., Ph.D.) and has pursued graduate theological studies at Boston University’s School of Theology. She is the recipient of an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Ursinus College in Pennsylvania.


She is a sociologist whose specialties focus on African American women, religion, social change, and the legacy of W. E. B. Du Bois for sociology, African American studies, and religious studies.   Her research, teaching, and writing have specifically focused on the role of African American women in generating social change and on the diverse roles of black Christian women in the twentieth century. She is currently at work on a book titled, That Blessed Book: The Bible and the African American Cultural Imagination. She is also exploring the impact of African Muslims on the formation of African American Christianity during slavery; some of that work can be found in Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society (2014) and The American Baptist Quarterly (2008). Some of her essays and articles are gathered in her 2001 book, If It Wasn’t for the Women: Black Women’s Experience and Womanist Culture in Church and Community. She served as an editor of the 2012 volume, Sisters of African Descent: Connecting Spirituality, Religion, and Vocation.


Several of her journal articles have been reprinted in anthologies such as African American Religious Thought: An Anthology, edited by Cornel West and Eddie Glaude and Kenneth Aman’s The Border Regions of Faith. Her 2010 essay, “Still the Most Segregated Hour: Religion, Race, and the American Experience” is in Patricia Hill Collins and John Solomos, editors, Handbook on Race and Ethnicity. In 2010, Dr. Gilkes was able to participate in a panel at the Harlem Book Fair that was broadcast on C-Span because of her essay “Outsiders Within the Higher Circles: Two First Ladies as Cultural Icons in a Racialized Politics of Difference,” an essay that explores the work and lives of Michelle Obama and Jacqueline Kennedy. A recent article, “Three Great Revolutions: W. E. B. Du Bois, African American Women and Social Change” can be found on-line in the Berkeley Journal of Sociology.  


She has lectured and presented papers at colleges, universities, and scholarly conferences in the United States, Canada, Germany, England, and South Africa. She is active in several scholarly organizations, having held leadership positions in the American Sociological Association, the Association of Black Sociologists, the American Academy of Religion, the Society for the Study of Social Problems, the Eastern Sociological Society, and the Society for the Study of Black Religion. During the 2003-2004 academic year, she served as the national lecturer for Sociologists for Women in Society and, in 1998-1999, as the Robin M. Williams, Jr. Distinguished Lecturer for the Eastern Sociological Society. In February 2008, she received the Eastern Sociological Society’s highest professional award–the Merit Award.