Leigh Soares

Leigh Soares


  • Agricultural, Rural and Environmental History
  • Identity: Gender, Race and Region


  • Assistant Professor


  • African American History
  • U.S. South
  • 19th and 20th Century U.S.
  • History of Education




  • 214A Allen Hall

Leigh Soares



I am a scholar of African American history, with an interest in post-emancipation politics and Black institution building. My current book project is titled Cradles of Citizenship: Public Black Colleges and Political Engagement from Emancipation to Civil Rights. The book tells the story of Black men and women across the U.S. South who believed the struggle for equality would be incomplete without state-funded public colleges for Black students. It positions public HBCUs as a crucial but neglected site of Black political engagement and civic development. I am interested in sharing my research in academic and public spaces. In addition to presenting my work in front of a wide range of audiences, I have published in the History of Education Quarterly and appeared in the 2022 PBS documentary Making Black America.

My research on Black politics and education is closely intertwined with my commitment to making higher education more equitable and navigable for all. Whether I am teaching a class on U.S. history, southern history, or African American history, students in my courses consider diverse perspectives about the meanings of freedom, equality, and progress in America. In addition to my work in the History Department, I am an active affiliate faculty member in MSU’s African American Studies Program. I enjoy connecting with undergraduate and graduate students.



  • Cradles of Citizenship: Public Black Colleges and Political Engagement from Emancipation to Civil Rights (under contract with the University of Pennsylvania Press)

Peer-Reviewed Articles

  • “‘Tuskegee Is Her Monument’: Gender and Leadership in Early Public Black Colleges,” History of Education Quarterly 63, no. 3 (August 2023): 357-77, doi:10.1017/heq.2023.3
  • “Resisting the Rise of Jim Crow: Black Political Organizing at Prairie View State College, 1880-1910” (manuscript in progress)

Book Reviews

  • Review of Administering Freedom: The State of Emancipation after the Freedmen’s Bureau, by Dale Kretz, Journal of African American History (accepted for publication)
  • Review of Margaret Murray Washington: The Life and Times of a Career Clubwoman, by Sheena Harris, Journal of Southern History, May 2022
  • Review of An Architecture of Education: African American Women Design the New South, by Ángel David Nieves, H-SAWH, H-Net Reviews, March 2021

Public Essays

  • “Reconstruction-Era Politics Shaped Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” Process, Organization of American Historians, Feb. 19, 2018


Invited Lectures

  • “Rights and Resistance: The Black Struggle for Public Higher Education in the Reconstruction South,” Clinical Brown Bag Series, Department of Psychology, Mississippi State University, October 2021
  • “Forgotten Founders: Black Women Leaders in Higher Education,” Women's History Month Brown Bag Series [virtual], Gender Studies, Mississippi State University, March 2021
  • “Progressive Era Reform and the Black Campus,” Food for Thought Series, Africana Research Center, Penn State University, University Park, PA, March 2020
  • “‘To Manage Our Own Seminary of Learning’: Black Leadership and Negotiations for Public Higher Education in the South, 1875-1900,” Emerging Scholar Speaker Series, Africana Research Center, Penn State University, University Park, PA, January 2019

Conference Papers

Panel Organizer: “Educators as Activists in the Long Freedom Struggle,” Association for the Study of African American Life and History Conference, September 2023

Panel Co-Organizer: “Negotiating Emancipation in the Reconstruction South,” OAH Annual Meeting [virtual], April 2021

“Anchors of Reform: Public Black Colleges and Educational Activism, 1880-1920,” AERA Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA, April 2020 [conference canceled due to COVID-19]

“Ruling the Rural Fountain of Knowledge: Public Black Colleges, Gender, and Leadership in the Post-Civil War South,” Southern Association for Women Historians Triennial Conference, Tuscaloosa, Ala., June 2018

“The Limits of Federal Support for Black Higher Education,” National Academy of Education/Spencer Fellows Conference, Washington, D.C., March 2018

“‘We Are Their Intellectual Equals’: Black Education During Virginia’s Readjuster Movement, 1880-1884,” History of Education Society Meeting, Little Rock, Ark., November 2017

“Professionalized and Pushed Aside: Women’s Narrowing Leadership at Public Black Colleges, 1870-1910,” Graduate Research Conference, Northwestern Black Graduate Student Association, Chicago, Ill., March 2017


Early U.S. History

History of African American Women

History of U.S. Black Politics


Race and Gender in the New South


Certified LGBTQ+ Safe Zone Ally


  • Graduate Committee, Department of History, Mississippi State University (2019-present)
  • Co-founder and co-facilitator, Race & Racism Research Working Group, Mississippi State University (2021-present)
  • Committee on Academic Freedom, Organization of American Historians (2021-2024)

Professional Associations

Organization of American Historians

American Historical Association

Southern Historical Association

Association for the Study of African American Life and History