College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities; Community, Engagement, Belonging and Access; OUR Clemson

Rhondda Thomas named the recipient of the Class of ’39 Award for Excellence


University faculty have named Rhondda Thomas one of the very best by awarding her the Class of ’39 Award for Excellence.

The award, endowed by the Class of 1939 to commemorate its 50th anniversary in 1989, is presented annually to one distinguished faculty member whose outstanding contributions over five years are judged by peers to represent the highest achievement of service to the student body, University and community, state or nation.

“The legacy of sacrifice, service, and philanthropy of the Class of ’39 is inspiring and motivating, and I’m honored that my colleagues chose me to be a part of this distinguished group,” said Thomas. “I’m also grateful to work at a university that values and encourages service both on and off-campus.”

Thomas is the Calhoun Lemon Professor of Literature, an endowed position she has held since 2018. Her research and teaching interests are early African American literature and culture, politics of black identity, autobiographical scholarship, African American literature and the Bible, race and culture studies, African American historiography, migration narratives, and African American women writers.

Perhaps most impactfully, she has been a prominent member of the community pushing for a full accounting of Clemson’s history with African Americans in the region.

“Dr. Thomas is, without doubt, one of our University’s most productive and engaged faculty members,” said Will Stockton, chair and professor of English. “Through her public program creation and leadership, she has greatly contributed to increasing understanding of our cultural heritage and to recognize the previously unheard voices in Clemson’s institutional history. Her work exemplifies the best of what interdisciplinary and public-facing scholarship in the humanities can offer us all. It is an honor to have her in our intellectual community.”

Erin Goss, associate professor and associate chair for the Department of English, commented on the impact of Thomas’s work to document the Black experience at Clemson in her nomination letter:

“Dr. Thomas has made enormous contributions to how students, colleagues, and citizens understand the history and culture of upstate South Carolina,” Goss wrote. “Most recently, by documenting the history and experience of Black people in the region through her celebrated and highly publicized Call My Name project, she has also helped these populations better understand how to [comprehend] the challenges of the past to build a stronger future.”

Thomas has earned multiple accolades for her work, including Clemson’s 2020 Senior Researcher of the Year. She also won a CAAH Creativity Professorships award for the 2020-2022 term and a “Preserving Our Places in History” Project Award for Call My Name from the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission. She is also the recipient of the 2020 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award from the Clemson University Division of Student Affairs, given in recognition of the recipient’s work on placing service before self.

Thomas earned a B.S. in communication and media journalism from Columbia Union College, an M.S. in journalism from the University of Georgia, an M.A. in literature from the University of New Hampshire and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Maryland.