Tyler Sperrazza

Tyler Sperrazza

Ph.D. Student – History and African American and Diaspora Studies


Biography:

Sperraza is a sixth-year doctoral candidate in the Departments of History and African American & Diaspora Studies under the direction of Dr. William A. Blair and Dr. Shirley Moody-Turner. He has served as the Editorial Assistant for the Journal of the Civil War Era and as President of the History Graduate Student Association. My dissertation—Defiant: African American Legal and Cultural Responses to Northern White Supremacy, 1865-1915—explores the work of African American activists in northern cities who fought to gain equal access to leisure spaces during post-bellum, pre-Harlem era. While white northerners attempted to use municipal laws and statutes to segregate public spaces of leisure—particularly theaters—northern black activists used the courts and the newly adopted Civil Rights Acts of 1866 and 1875 in order to expand their rights as citizens. My work expands our understanding of racial segregation in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. It combines the cultural history of theaters and leisure spaces with the legal history of civil rights legislation and constitutional law. This juxtaposition highlights different strategies used to both segregate spaces and fight for desegregation. Municipal customs governing theaters came into conflict with newly written civil rights legislation and changed the ways African Americans could fight discrimination. My research also illuminates previously unpublished documents that provide a window into the lives of African American theatrical performers during the twentieth century. These documents expand our understanding of African American life and the various strategies African Americans used to combat white supremacy. Dissertation Directors: William Blair and Shirley Moody-Turner

Tyler’s Fields are History & African American and Diaspora Studies