J. Marlena Edwards


As a fifth year dual doctoral candidate in African American & African Studies (AAAS) and History, my dissertation, “…To Do Credit to My Nation, Wherever I Go”: West Indian and Cape Verdean Immigrants in New England, 1890-1940 is a community study of the quotidian experiences of African-descended immigrants in Southeastern New England cities, New Bedford and Providence. Employing social network analysis, genealogy, and oral history to cross reference archival data, this project engages African American identity as a multi-ethnic one and contributes to existing scholarship on the African diaspora and immigration by arguing that Black immigrants in New England’s residential enclaves depart from the traditional histories of immigrant assimilation and acculturation.  I analyze how these immigrants operationalized their familial networks, ethnic organizations, and neighborhood enclaves to retain cultural identity and maintain transnational connections to their homelands.  Far from imagining homelands and communities, New Bedford and Providence’s Black immigrants made self-conscious choices to retain and reconstruct their ethnic identities in diaspora. Despite historical invisibility, this project examines Black immigrant spaces, economic power, and familial networks as a strategy for cultural and ethnic preservation and demonstrates that African Americans are as ethnically diverse as other racial-ethnic groups.

My professional, pedagogical, and personal missions are aligned with the National Council for Black Studies to provide an education imbued with cultural relevance, social responsibility, and academic excellence.

In the past, I worked as a non-profit professional with a specialty in educational services, volunteer management, recruitment, and corporate engagement as the Volunteer Services Manager at Presbyterian Senior Services, the Recruitment Coordinator at Mentoring USA and as a Program Coordinator with Achieving Leadership’s Purpose, Inc., a New York City-based non-profit.

I’m from Queens, NY.  I enjoy reading Black speculative fiction and science fiction (Octavia E. Butler, N.K. Jemisin, Jewell Gomez, and Nnedi Okorafor) and I am a huge Harry Potter fan.  Most importantly, I’m a Cherry Pepsi snob.


“‘Worthy Daughters of the Soil’: Benevolence and the American West Indian Ladies Aid Society, 1915-1936″  (invited for revision)

“The Cape Verdean Who Emigrates Never Puts Down Roots”: Identity in the Cape Verdean American Diaspora, in New Frontiers in the Study of the Global African Diaspora, edited by Glenn A. Chambers, Rita Kiki Edozie, and Tama Hamilton-Wray. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press (Forthcoming)


  • University Enrichment Fellowship, 2013-2018


Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI

  • Teaching Assistant: Africa and the World, 2016
  • Teaching Assistant: Culture, Nationalism, and State Formation in the Modern Period,  2015
  • Lecturer: The Evolution of American Thought, 2014 – 2015

Bloomfield College, Bloomfield, NJ

  • Adjunct Lecturer: African American History to 1877, 2011


  • American Historical Association
  • Organization of American Historians
  • Association for Caribbean Historians
  • Association for the Study of African American Life and History
  • National Council of Black Studies
  • Association for the Study of Worldwide African Diaspora
  • Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.