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“Wicked Flesh” wins 2020 Williams Prize in Louisiana History

NEW ORLEANS – The book “Wicked Flesh: Black Women, Intimacy, and Freedom in the Atlantic World,” authored by Jessica Marie Johnson and published by the University of Pennsylvania Press, was selected as the winner of the 2020 Kemper and Leila Williams Prize in Louisiana History.

Offered annually by The Historic New Orleans Collection and the Louisiana Historical Association since 1974, the Kemper and Leila Williams Prize in Louisiana History recognizes excellence in research and writing on Louisiana. The prize, which is named for the founders of THNOC, includes a cash award of $1,500 and a plaque.

In “Wicked Flesh,” Johnson, a historian of Atlantic slavery and the Atlantic African diaspora, explores the story of freedom as it relates to the choices Black women made to retain control over their bodies and selves, their loved ones and their futures in the New World.

Johnson’s research led her to archival documents from three continents, written in multiple languages and largely from the perspective of colonial officials and slave-owning men, to re-create Black women’s experiences from coastal Senegal to French Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti) to Spanish Cuba to the swampy outposts of the Gulf Coast.

In addition to receiving the 2020 Williams Prize in Louisiana History, “Wicked Flesh” was chosen as a finalist for the Pauli Murray Book Prize in Black Intellectual History, granted by the African American Intellectual History Society, and an honorable mention for the Organization of American Historians’ Frederick Jackson Turner Award.

Johnson is an assistant professor of History at the Johns Hopkins University and the Spring 2021 Sheila Biddle Ford Foundation Fellow at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Studies at Harvard University. As a historian and Black Studies scholar, Johnson researches black diasporic freedom struggles from slavery to emancipation. As a digital humanist, she explores ways digital and social media disseminate and create historical narratives, in particular comparative histories of slavery and people of African descent.

Nominations for the 2021 Williams Prize may be submitted now through January 14, 2022. Eligible works should be published between January 1 and December 31, 2021, and meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • Explore an aspect of Louisiana history and culture
  • Place Louisiana subjects in regional, national or international context.

Four (4) copies of the nominated work and four (4) copies of the nomination entry form, available at, should be mailed to Chair, Kemper and Leila Williams Prize in Louisiana History, The Historic New Orleans Collection, 410 Chartres Street, New Orleans, Louisiana 70130-2179.


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