Mellon Fellowship will support UNC historian’s documentary on Jamaican immigrants

Heather Williams, a professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has received an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation New Directions Fellowship to support her work on a documentary film on Jamaican immigrants.

New Directions Fellowships assist faculty members in the humanities who seek to acquire training outside their disciplines. According to the Mellon Foundation, the awards are long-term investments in faculty members’ “intellectual range and productivity” and enable strong scholars “to work on problems that interest them most.”

Williams, a native of Jamaica, came with her family to New York at age 11. Thousands of Jamaicans immigrated to the United States in the 1950s and ‘60s for better jobs and educational opportunities. The Civil Rights Act and removal of immigration quotas made their migration possible.

This summer, she will begin interviewing immigrants, including family members, and telling their full stories, including their consciousness of race.

“Jamaica is 98 percent black,” she said. “How was being black different in Jamaica than in the Civil Rights-era United States? What was the emotional adjustment like, being tagged in a different way?”

Williams will be taking coursework on filmmaking, oral history, the sociology of immigration and an anthropology course on life stages.

She is the author of “Help Me to Find My People: The African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery” (forthcoming in June from UNC Press) and “Self-Taught: African American Education in Slavery and Freedom” (2005, UNC Press). For a story about her newest book, visit