AHA Member Spotlight: Phil Rubio

Phil Rubio is associate professor of history at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro. Phil lives in Durham, North Carolina, and has been a member since 2002. 

Website: https://www.uncpress.org/book/9780807859865/theres-always-work-at-the-post-office/

Alma maters: BA (liberal studies), Vermont College of Norwich University, 1994; MA (history), North Carolina Central University, 1998; PhD (history) Duke University, 2006

Fields of interest: 20th-century United States, African American, labor, social movements

Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today? A lot of things started coming together at once. We had moved to Durham from Colorado in 1988 and I was still carrying mail for the US Postal Service. My background as a musician and labor activist combined with my longtime interest in history and politics got me more interested in learning black history and culture as crucial American history. Reading Pauli Murray’s magisterial book Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family (recommended by my good friend Noel Ignatiev) connected me with her family and community activists in the 1990s and inspired me to go back to school part time while still working full time at the post office and receive my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. I left the post office in 2000 after 20 years when I won a Mellon Fellowship that allowed me to enter the history doctoral program at Duke University that fall. I also taught history classes part time at North Carolina Central University from 2001–07, and was hired as a tenure-track professor in fall 2007 by NCA&T, which is where I teach now.

What do you like the most about where you live and work? Durham and Greensboro are two distinct cities 50 miles apart: both with conflicted pasts and presents, yet both are also very vibrant and diverse. I enjoy the freedom of instruction and student openness at HBCUs, which is where most of my teaching career has been.

What projects are you currently working on? I currently have a book manuscript on the 1970 US postal wildcat strike under consideration by the University of North Carolina Press. I am also working on developing into a journal article a paper I gave in 2017 at the Association for the Study of African American Life and History annual meeting on black labor education in Ohio in the early Cold War. And I contributed a chapter to a working book manuscript on the legacy of the preeminent historian of American populism, the late Larry Goodwyn, one of my professors at Duke.

Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how? Yes. I am even more interested in global social movements, how both their successes and failures inform future generations.

What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research?Oral history interviewing is like a jam session, a kind of call-and-response improvisation on set pieces of the subject’s memory. I am always blown away by what I learn from my informants. And perhaps the most fascinating archival experience I have had was reading speeches on the convention floor of the National Association of Letter Carriers (my former union) during debates over the existence of Jim Crow branches in the South through the first half of the 20th century. The arguments, passion, and rhetorical flourishes were very moving or disturbing, depending on who was speaking, but the most compelling were the southern black members.

Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?Yes! I heartily recommend these films that I have shown to my classes over the years: C.S.A. (2005), dir. Kevin Wilmot; Life and Debt (2001), dir. Stephanie Black; Hip Hop: The Furious Force of Rhymes (2010), dir. Charles Ferguson; Reconstruction: The Second Civil War (2004), dir. Llewelyn Smith; and Inside Job (2008), dir. Charles Ferguson. Favorite recent book: Patricia Bell-Scott, The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice. New York: Vintage, 2017.

What do you value most about the history discipline? That it is a discipline, one that resists the temptations of ideology but not at the price of passion. History done right takes us to the truth: the only place where reality can be sorted out as a community process that by its very nature is didactic.

Why is membership in the AHA important to you? Keeping up with scholarship and the debates both inside and outside my immediate fields of interest keeps me engaged in the scholarly community and informs my teaching.

AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, AHA Today features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.

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