Cynthia R. Greenlee

Cynthia R. Greenlee is a doctoral candidate in history at Duke University and lives in North Carolina.

Follow her on Twitter: @CynthiaGreenlee

Recent Articles

How ‘Roots’ Reverberated in Africa

Roots revolutionized how Americans viewed and talked about black history. But its influence extended across the Atlantic, especially to West Africa and apartheid South Africa.

(Photo: AP/Matthew S. Gunby)
When the landmark TV miniseries Roots premiered to a U.S. audience of almost 100 million viewers in January 1977, the West African nation where author Alex Haley purportedly found his ancestor Kunta Kinte—The Gambia—did not yet have a national television broadcasting system. But Africans were far from in the dark about Roots , the award-winning historical drama that took Haley more than ten years to write and research. The epic miniseries, which united black and white Americans in a viewing experience that the late journalist Chuck Stone called both "an electronic orgy of white guilt" and "one of greatest emotional experiences of all time"—set off a chain of reactions in sub-Saharan Africa. As the A&E, Lifetime, and History channels prepare to simulcast a remake of Roots starting on Memorial Day, it’s worth recalling how the original miniseries pushed African nations to publicly come to grips with slavery’s brutal history; their often-complicated...

Black Kids Accused of Causing Their Own Deaths, From Tamir Rice to Emmett Till

As in the infamous 1955 murder of a black teen, society sought to taint the character of a 12-year-old black boy recently killed by police with the sins of his father.

(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
If we are to believe Cleveland police and city officials, 12-year-old Tamir Rice caused his own death. That is, his actions—holding a toy gun in a public park—led to his November 22 shooting death at the hands of a police officer. And Emmett Till wolf-whistled at a young white woman in a Mississippi country store. This is not a non sequitur, my friends. The similarities between the cases of Tamir Rice and Emmett Till shouldn’t escape anyone’s notice. The language of blame, the alacrity with which white men see black boys as threatening men, and the attempts to paint Rice’s family as criminals whose son was unworthy of defense: Someone somewhere in the cosmos must have pushed a replay button on scripts from 1955—the year of Till’s murder. When attorneys for the City of Cleveland responded to a wrongful death suit filed by Rice’s family earlier this month, their documents alleged that the 12-year-old had failed to “exercise due care...

Chapel Hill Murders Are About More Than a Parking Dispute

Fights over space—whether in subways or suburban neighborhoods—are more often contests about privilege.

(Photo / Jenny Warburg)
I have three categories of Facebook friends who are, like me, North Carolinians or University of North Carolina alumni. The first are deeply crushed by the murder of three young Muslim people in Chapel Hill on Tuesday. The second group is also horrified, but part — if not most — of their horror derives from their dismay that mass murder could occur in their idyllic and upper-class town. Then there’s the third group whose members are, at best, are in denial; at worst, they’re willfully blind. For those unfamiliar with the idiosyncrasies of my home state, Chapel Hill is known as a mythically progressive oasis in a red state, and it’s squarely in the Triangle, a region known for its concentration of PhDs and creative-class workers. I lived not far from Finley Forest, the condo neighborhood that Deah Barakat; his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha; and her sister, Razan, were killed. For seven years of my life, I enjoyed the perks of Chapel Hill life: food co-ops...

Dear Thom Tillis: How Long Does It Take For a Black Person to Become a Traditional North Carolinian?

An open letter to the Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, who is currently running for U.S. Senate, is prompted by his comments about the Republican Party's demographics.

AP Photo/Chuck Burton
Dear Thom: I hope I can call you Thom; you may certainly call me Cynthia. Given the circumstances—given how far the policies you've supported since becoming Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives have reached into my home and even my vagina —I feel we are on intimate terms that make surnames superfluous. In your 2012 comments to Carolina Business Review , unearthed by TPM last week, you talked about how Republicans need to reach out to communities of color, the type of GOP hand-wringing we've heard since Mitt Romney went down in flames. I believe your specific comment was this: The traditional population of North Carolina and the United States is more or less stable. It’s not growing. The African American population is roughly growing but the Hispanic population and the other immigrant populations are growing in significant numbers. We’ve got to resonate with those future voters. Daniel Keylin, your helpful spokesperson, clarified what you meant...