The Georgia Historical Records Advisory Council awarded UNA professor of history Ansley Quiros with the Award for Excellence in Research Using the Holdings of Archives. Her first book, “God with Us: Lived Theology and the Freedom Struggle in Americus, Georgia, 1942-1976,” investigates the lives of everyday Americans in Americus, Georgia, processing the civil rights movement from the perspective of lived theology.
“The main argument of the book is that the civil rights struggle was not only a social, cultural, political struggle, but also a theological struggle,” Quiros said. “I think that there is a tendency amongst scholars to diminish the role of religion but particularly to diminish the role of religious belief, the role of theological beliefs...I wanted to kind of make the argument that ‘No, the content of theological belief is actually super important and its super motivational’ and in the civil rights struggle – for and against racial justice – different groups co-opted different beliefs under the banner of Christianity for different ends.”
The Atlanta native began her research in graduate school at Vanderbilt University, where she earned her Ph.D in 2014. It took seven years to turn the original paper into the award-winning book.
“That’s often the hidden part of academic research that you spend sitting in dusty libraries with call numbers so I’m thankful to the archivists, I’m thankful to the librarians, the preservationists who keep those records for historians to use,” Quiros said. “But I’m also just glad the book is getting recognition because it’s about a lot of brave people. I wrote it about and for regular Americans, regular men and women who put their faith into practice, and I hope that people will read their stories.”
While “God with Us” is Quiros’ debut book, last year she wrote two articles for the Washington Post which both examine political controversy through a religious lens.
“20th century U.S. history is kind of the ground we’re standing on,” Quiros said. “I’m really interested in the recent past that created the political, social, cultural, theological environment in which we’re all living.”
Quiros works with history professor Brian Dempsey to co-direct their project Civil Rights Struggle in the Shoals. Last year, the pair won over $45,000 from the U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Park Service to conduct original archival research on the civil rights struggle in the Shoals area.
“The civil rights movement has always captivated my imagination,” Quiros said. “I’ve studied it a lot; I’ve studied it for years, and I still get weepy when I think about it.
“I still find it pretty remarkable that ordinary Americans took to the streets armed with their beliefs in both American political justice and in God’s long arm of justice and demanded their rights. Due to opposition, it wasn’t completely successful, but they got a lot of what they asked for. I still find that just like pretty remarkable.”
As a professor, Quiros teaches a variety of American history classes. They range from a survey of U.S. history to graduate level classes on immigration in the United States.
“She was a great teacher,” said junior Hunter Drake, who took both sections of American History with Quiros. “She cared a lot about her students, and she would talk about how religion and politics affected what it meant for the people of the time.”
In her classes, Quiros incorporates similar ideas to those written about in her book.
“[Religion in the Civil Rights Movement] was something brought up a lot in class, how churches served as a mediary for civil rights leaders and it was one place where they could meet and talk about religion and what was going on in the country at the time without having to be judged,” Drake said. “I would say that would be important because that’s not something you hear other historians talk about a lot.”