Hi! My name is Mary McNeil, and I am a PhD Candidate in the American Studies Program at Harvard University. I am a graduate of Wheelock College (2014; History and American Studies) and an alum of the Institute for Recruitment of Teachers (2014-2015 cohort).
My dissertation, "'To Make A Political Place for Ourselves': Black Power and Red Power Claims to Boston," examines Black, Native, and Afro-Native relationships to land in Boston at the height of the Black Power and Red Power movements. It asks: What meanings did Black, Native, and Afro-Native peoples assign to Massachusetts in the decade preceding the United States’ bicentennial? What critiques did they proffer of the state as a crucial site in the development of an anti-Black, settler-colonial nation? How did these groups seize upon the era’s movements for Black self-determination and Indigenous sovereignty to make claims to space in the city? Where did these geographical critiques and spatial claims enable the potential for solidarities to emerge, and where did they create spaces of contestation? In asking these questions, I historicize overlapping local histories of Black and Native land dispossession and violent subjugation, taking seriously Christine DeLucia’s assertion that “understandings of contested pasts take shape in relation to particular landscapes” (DeLucia, 1-2). I also track, to borrow from Rashad Shabazz, the state’s “prisoniz[ing]” of Black and Native “landscapes” (Shabazz, 2). Though my dissertation contends with these overlapping spatial histories, it moves beyond a mere record of injury and dispossession. Thus, I turn to the praxis of Black, Native, and Afro-Native community members and activists, centering their alternative visions for the land in an era when the city’s racial and physical landscapes were rapidly changing. With my dissertation, I hope to make the case for Boston’s consideration as a significant site of Black Power and Red Power politics. Moreover, my work seeks to theorize the relationship between gender and place-making in order to attend to gender’s constitutive role in the formation of nationalist ideologies. Thus, I center the praxis and lived experiences of Black, Native, and Afro-Native women in my work. I do this because all too often, accounts of social movements employ a “Great Man” narrative that obscures women’s intellectual and political labor and because, to borrow from Kim TallBear, I conceive of Black, Native, and Afro-Native women who lead movements and families as “sharing ground” in their “caretaking of their peoples and their kin” (TallBear, 16).
While in graduate school, I have taught and TFed courses on Atlantic Slavery, Social Movements of the Sixties, Race and Power in Urban Classrooms, Social Media and Black Feminist Critique, and Hip-Hop. I have also served as a co-organizer of the American Studies Workshop, a co-founder and co-organizer of the Race and Ethnicity Working Group, a diversity admissions liaison for the American Studies program, a Summer Research Opportunities at Harvard graduate student mentor, and a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship graduate student mentor. My research has been supported by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, the Mellon Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute, and the Harvard University Native American Program (HUNAP). Currently, I am a researcher for Tufts University's African American Trail Project, a HUNAP 1665 Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck Pre-Doctoral fellow, and a summer fellow in the Radcliffe Institute's Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery Summer Grant Program.
I was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky and am an enrolled member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.