Randal  Maurice  Jelks

Randal Maurice Jelks

Ruth N. Halls Professor


  • Ph. D., Comparative Black Histories, Michigan State University
  • Master of Divinity, McCormick Theological Seminary
  • B.A., History, University of Michigan


Randal Maurice Jelks is The Ruth N. Halls Professor of African American and African Diaspora Studies. Jelks was born and spent his childhood in the city of New Orleans. Jelks's lineage in Louisiana traces back to 1830s and 1840s via his enslaved ancestors from Maryland and Virginia. He is a descendant of the Georgetown 272. Jelks and his mother migrated to Chicago where he attended South Shore High School on the city's Southside. From there he attended the University of Michigan (BA History), McCormick Theological Seminary (Master of Divinity), and Michigan State University (PhD in Comparative Black Histories).

Jelks is an award-winning author. He has published four books. African Americans in the Furniture City: The Struggle for Civil Rights Struggle in Grand Rapids (The University of Illinois Press, 2006), which was awarded the State History Award, University and Commercial Press, Historical Society of Michigan). Benjamin Elijah Mays, Schoolmaster of the Movement: A Biography(University of North Carolina Press 2012), awarded the 2013 Lillian Smith Book Award and the 2013 Literary Award, Black Caucus of the American Library Association; Faith and Struggle in the Lives of Four African Americans: Ethel Waters, Mary Lou Williams, and Eldridge Cleaver and Muhammad Ali(Bloomsbury January 2019);Letters to Martin: Meditations on Democracy in Black America  (January 2022) awarded Kansas Notable Book 2023.   Jelks writings have appeared in the Boston Review, Black Perspectives, Los Angeles Review of Booksas well as other national scholarly periodicals.  

Jelks has been a fellow at the National Humanities Center in Research Park Triangle, North Carolina, a Fulbright Distinguished Chair in American Studies at Masaryk University, Brno Czech Republic, a visiting lecturer at University of Regensburg (Germany) and taught at the University of Ghana, Institute for African Studies (2001 and 2007).

Finally Jelks is a documentary film producer. He has produced and contributed to  Langston's Lawrence,  Garden City Kansas, as well a documentary with Academy Award Winner Kevin Willmott on Langston Hughes.