Visiting Research Professor of Sociology


Ph.D., Department of Sociology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2000

M.A., Department of Sociology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1996

B.S., Civil Engineering, University of Connecticut, 1993

B.A., English, University of Connecticut, 1993

Focus of Research

Social Movements/Collective Action, Community Structure, Collective Memory, Research Methods.

Contact Information


David Cunningham

David CunninghamDavid Cunningham’s current research focuses on the scope, organization, and legacy of racial contention in the civil rights-era South.  His recent work centers on the Ku Klux Klan, in particular the complex roles that the klan played in various communities throughout the 1960s and the enduring impacts of KKK activity on contemporary voting patterns and crime rates.  His latest book, Klansville, U.S.A.: The Rise and Fall of the Civil Rights-Era Ku Klux Klan, has recently been published by Oxford University Press.   

Klansville, U.S.A. has been featured in a variety of media:

NPR’s “Fresh Air”

CBS Saturday Morning 

PBS Miller Center Forum, University of Virginia

WGBH, Greater Boston with Emily Rooney 

Progressive Radio Network, The Burt Cohen Show 

WUNC The State of Things 

WBZ The Jordan Rich Show 

NECN BroadSide: The News with Jim Braude  

WCVB CityLine 

Failure Magazine 

The Page 99 Test 

Related projects, undertaken with a number of his colleagues and students, examine how courts, police, and civic actors combined in varied ways across southern communities to constitute networks of “anti-civil rights enforcement” (ACRE), as well as how school desegregation trajectories relate to the implementation of recently-mandated civil rights/human rights curricula in Mississippi’s public school districts.  “Civil Rights and Racial Justice in Mississippi,” a Justice Brandeis Semester teaching and research program, enabled a dozen Brandeis undergraduate and graduate students to conduct related research in support of the Mississippi Truth Project, a “statewide effort to create a culture of truth telling that will bring to light racially motivated crimes and injustices committed in Mississippi between 1945 and 1975.”

These projects follow Cunningham's earlier work on state-based efforts to limit social protest, dealing specifically with the FBI's counterintelligence programs (COINTELPROs) in operation between 1956 and 1971.  A book based on that research, There's Something Happening Here: The New Left, the Klan, and FBI Counterintelligence, was published in 2004 by the University of California Press.

Additionally, Cunningham has an interest in emerging forms of activism, as well as the social processes that mediate activist identities. These topics consume much of his teaching energy, and provide a focus for a number of  “on the road” programs that enable members of the Brandeis community to directly engage with a wide range of communities. The first of these programs, “Possibilities for Change in American Communities”, was offered in 2001, and incorporated a month-long trip around the U.S. in a sleeper bus to examine historical and contemporary activist work in nearly two dozen communities.  As a precursor to the 2011 “Civil Rights and Racial Justice in Mississippi” JBS program, in 2006 Cunningham and Brandeis anthropologist Mark Auslander offered “Memory and Cultural Production in the Mississippi Delta,” bringing students to the Delta to pursue oral history and other community-based work.

Current Projects

“Segregationist Responses to Civil Rights Mobilization” (with Dan Kryder and Geoff Ward)

“Building Capacity for Civic Action: Legacies of Contention and Implementation of Mississippi’s Civil Rights/Human Rights Curriculum” (with Ashley Rondini)

“Vigilantism Reconsidered: Threat, Networks, and KKK Membership in Natchez” (with Jaleh Jalili, Molly Schneider, and Noah Braiterman)

“Infiltrators” (with Roberto Soto-Carrion)

“Capturing the Structure of Musically-Based Youth Subcultures: The Case of ‘Emo’” (with Emilie Hardman and Ann Morrison Spinney)


Klansville, U.S.A.: The Rise and Fall of the Civil Rights-Era Ku Klux Klan (Oxford University Press, 2013).


There's Something Happening Here: The New Left, the Klan, and FBI Counterintelligenc (University of California Press, 2004). 

Selected articles and chapters

“Civil Rights.” Oxford Bibliographies in Sociology. Ed. Jeff Manza. New York: Oxford University Press (with Nicole Fox, forthcoming 2013).

“Shades of Anti-Civil Rights Violence: Reconsidering the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi.” In Ted Ownby, ed., The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi, edited by Ted Ownby. Oxford, MS: University Press of Mississippi (forthcoming 2013).

Mobilizing Ethnic Competition.” Theory and Society 41, 5: 505-525 (2012).

Enduring Consequences of Failed Right-Wing Activism: Klan Mobilization in the 1960s and Contemporary Crime Rates in Southern Counties.” Social Forces 90, 3: 843-862 (with Rory McVeigh, 2012).

“Methods of Truth and Reconciliation.” In Kathleen Odell Korgen, Jonathan M. White, and Shelley K. White, eds., Sociologists in Action. Newbury Park, CA: Pine Forge Press (2011).

Teaching Graduate and Undergraduate Research Methods: A Multi-Pronged Departmental Initiative.” Teaching Sociology 38, 2: 93-105 (with Sara Shostak, Wendy Cadge, and Jennifer Girouard, 2010).

The Durability of Collective Memory: Reconciling the ‘Greensboro Massacre.’” Social Forces 88, 4: 1517-1542 (with Colleen Nugent and Caitlin Slodden, 2010).

Ambivalence and Control: State Action Against the Civil Rights-era Ku Klux Klan.” Qualitative Sociology 32, 4: 355-377 (2009).

Truth, Reconciliation, and the Ku Klux Klan.” Southern Cultures 14, 3: 68-87 (2008).

Contexts for Mobilization: Spatial Settings and Klan Presence in North Carolina, 1964-1966.” American Journal of Sociology 113, 3: 781-814 (with Benjamin T. Phillips, 2007).

“'What If She's From the FBI?’ The Effects of Covert Social Control on Social Movements and their Participants.” In Mathieu DeFlem, ed., Surveillance and Governance: Crime Control and Beyond. New York: Elsevier (with John Noakes, 2007).

Paths to Participation: A Profile of the Civil Rights-Era Ku Klux Klan.” Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change 27: 283-309 (2007).

Comparative Collective Community-Based Learning: The ‘Possibilities for Change in American Communities’ Program,” Teaching Sociology 32: 276-290 (with Cheryl Kingma-Kiekhofer, 2004).

The Emergence of 'Worthy' Targets: Official Frames and Deviance Narratives within the FBI.” Sociological Forum 19, 3: 347-369 (with Barb Browning, 2004).

The Patterning of Repression: FBI Counterintelligence and the New Left.” Social Forces 82, 1: 207-238 (2003).

Understanding State Responses to Right Vs. Left -Wing Threats: The FBI, the Klan, and the New Left.” Social Science History 27, 3: 327-370 (2003).

“State vs. Social Movement: The FBI's COINTELPRO Against the New Left.” In Jack Goldstone, ed., States, Parties, & Social Movements: Protest and the Dynamics of Institutional Change. Cambridge University Press (2003).

American Sociological Association Elections, 1975-1996: Exploring Explanations for ‘Feminization’.” American Sociological Review 62: 746-759 (with Rachel A. Rosenfeld and Kathryn Schmidt, 1997).

Selected essays

Hit and Miss: Making Connections in the Social Movements Classroom.” Mobilizing Ideas Essay Dialogue on the Pedagogy of Social Movements (2012). 

Mississippi Smoldering.” Brandeis Magazine (Fall): 22-27 (with Yosep Bae, Jesse Begelfer, Edwin Gonzalez, Gabi Sanchez-Stern, Molly Schneider, and Jake Weiner, 2011). 

Revisiting the Campus Arena.” Essays on Human Values, Global Challenges, and the Liberal Arts, in honor of the inauguration of Brandeis University President Frederick Martin Lawrence (2011). 

Red State, Blue State.” Catalyst Magazine 4, 1: 16-17 (2009).  

“Surveillance and Social Movements: Lenses on the Repression-Mobilization Nexus.” Contemporary Sociology 36, 2: 120-125 (2007).

All the Klan's Men.” Boston Globe (2005).          

Learning by Design: Harnessing the Leadership Development Potential of Student Activism.” Concepts and Connections 13, 1: 7-9 (2005). 

What the G-Men Knew.” The New York Times Magazine (2004). 

Squelching Dissent in the Name of Security.” Boston Globe (2003). 

“An Education in Activism: Teaching and Learning About Social Change on the Road.” Brandeis Review 22,1: 38-45 (2001).