The Best of the Best

In November, Clemson faculty voted Rhondda Thomas the recipient of the Class of ’39 Award for Excellence — in essence, she has been named as one of the very best faculty members by her own colleagues.

The award, endowed by the Class of 1939 to commemorate its 50th anniversary in 1989, is presented annually to one distinguished faculty member whose contributions over five years are judged by peers to represent the highest achievement of service to the student body, University and community, state, or nation.

“The legacy of sacrifice, service and philanthropy of the Class of ’39 is inspiring and motivating, and I’m honored that my colleagues chose me to be a part of this distinguished group,” said Thomas, the Calhoun Lemon Professor of Literature. “I’m also grateful to work at a university that values and encourages service both on and off-campus.”

Her research and teaching interests are early African American literature and culture, politics of Black identity, autobiographical scholarship, African American literature and the Bible, race and culture studies, African American historiography, migration narratives, and African American women writers.

Perhaps most significantly, she has been a prominent member of the community pushing for a full accounting of Clemson’s history with African Americans in the region. “Through her public program creation and leadership, she has greatly contributed to increasing understanding of our cultural heritage and to recognize the previously unheard voices in Clemson’s institutional history,” said Will Stockton, chair and professor of English.

Erin Goss, associate professor and associate chair for the Department of English, commented on the impact of Thomas’ work to document the Black experience at Clemson in her nomination letter:

“Dr. Thomas has made enormous contributions to how students, colleagues and citizens understand the history and culture of Upstate South Carolina,” Goss wrote. “Most recently, by documenting the history and experience of Black people in the region through her celebrated and highly publicized ‘Call My Name’ project, she has also helped these populations better understand how to [comprehend] the challenges of the past to build a stronger future.”

Named Clemson’s 2020 Senior Researcher of the Year, Thomas also won a CAAH Creativity Professorships award for the 2020-2022 term and a Preserving Our Places in History Project Award for “Call My Name” from the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission. She has received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support a touring exhibition of her research, “Call My Name: The Black Experience in the South Carolina Upstate from Enslavement to Desegregation,” an extension of an initiative that has digitized more than 2,000 primary documents related to Clemson’s history.

Thomas also is involved in an interdisciplinary partnership coordinated by English professor Lee Morrissey that has been awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, dedicated to “Exploring America’s Stories in the Clemson Landscape.”



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