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Atlantan Dubbed Historian in Heels Makes and Studies Our City's Rich History

By Lauren Finney Harden | October 28, 2020 | People

Atlantan Karcheik Sims-Alvarado studies—and makes—history.


There are so many monikers you could give Karcheik Sims-Alvarado, PhD, but she prefers to go by the Historian in Heels. “I want to challenge the public’s perception of what it means to be a historian,” she says. “We are conditioned to think of historians as males possessing gray hair and wearing cardigans or sports coats with little elbow patches. I love celebrating that I am a female academic who also loves high fashion.”

Here’s the list of titles the “unconventional scholar,” as she calls herself, can go by: CEO of Preserve Black Atlanta; assistant professor of Africana studies at Morehouse College; civil rights historian and exhibition consultant for the exhibition A Right to Freedom: Martin Luther King, Jr. presented at the Nobel Prize Museum in Stockholm; and author of Atlanta and the Civil Rights Movement: 1944-1968, to name just a few.

With Preserve Black Atlanta, Sims-Alvarado works to “establish relationships with a number of museums, corporations and public institutions to conduct historical research, design and create content for exhibitions, and identify and preserve historical sites,” she explains. For example, she conceptualized and executed a 4-mile outdoor exhibition on the BeltLine tied to her book. “The book and exhibitions remind us that the civil rights movement is ongoing,” she says. “The Black Lives Matter movement is one extension of the mid-20th-century social movement, and activists are challenging us to examine critically those institutions that continue to perpetuate systemic racism. The images are inspiring; it allows us to understand that the civil rights movement was multiracial and cross-generational, as well as answers the research question of how Atlanta came to be recognized as the epicenter of the civil rights movement.”

A career highlight was certainly serving as the civil rights historian and exhibition consultant for A Right to Freedom: Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Nobel Prize Museum. She points out that it was imperative for her to not only “emphasize Dr. King’s principles, but also the internal and external factors” that shaped him as a leader, including Coretta Scott King’s influence and continuation of their work. (She also was the historical adviser for a Time magazine and Viola Davis virtual reality exhibit called The March, commemorating the 1963 March on Washington.) That spirit flows through her teachings at Morehouse about the African American experience, where she’s also responsible for establishing a public history and historic preservation certificate program, with the goal of increasing the number of career museum and public history workers.

Up next for this industrious historian is a partnership with Newton County. She’ll “study, protect and preserve a massive slave cemetery possessing the remains of more than 150 persons interred on land undisturbed for more than 155 years. So much of the work I do focuses on expanding what we currently understand about the life, history and culture of African Americans,” she says. “I want to humanize the deceased and create a memorial for those who died before experiencing emancipation.”

Photography by: by Christopher Moore