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CAUSE & Heinz College Speaker Series

The Center for Africanamerican Urban Studies and the Economy (CAUSE) is directed by Dr. Joe Trotter and housed within the CMU Department of History, Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences

The Center for Africanamerican Urban Studies and the Economy (CAUSE) and the Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy are pleased to present our 2022 virtual speaker series on racial disparities in America.

As part of Carnegie Mellon’s larger efforts to address these systemic challenges in our society, CAUSE and Heinz College created this series in 2021, designed to promote collaboration and deepen our understanding of the historical and contemporary policy dimensions of persistent class and racial inequality in American society.


“Land, Lords, and Tenants,” Struggles for Rent Control in Lagos, Nigeria, 1941-60

Friday, April 8, 2022 | 4:30pm - 6:30pm ET

Register here to attend!

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, housing evictions continue to undermine public health and economic livelihood. This presentation exploreshow urban dwellers dealt with housing insecurities during a different moment of globaleconomic and political upheaval:World War II. Specifically, it willdiscusshow tenants in Lagos, one of the world’s populous cities, confronted rent inflation from the middle of the Second World War until Nigeria’s independence in 1960. Several factors, such as the rising cost of living, contributed to rent hikes. With the support of the Nigerian press, tenants pushed the British colonial government to pass rent restrictions laws in 1942. After Nigerian politicians began to take over the city’s administration during the 1950s, tenants ensured that rent control remained active. While some tenants used rent control to secure housing, many could not prevent their homeowners’ illegal eviction tactics. The history of tenants' struggles for rent control illuminates how ordinary residents improved their living conditions and claimed urban resources.

Halimat Somotan Halimat Somotan, Ph.D is a Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of History, working with Professor Joe Trotter. She is ascholar of colonial and postcolonial Africa, whose research and teaching focuson housing, decolonization, and African cities. Her current book project, Decolonizing the City: Popular Politics and the Making of Postcolonial Lagos,examines how ordinary Lagosians experienced and contested Nigeria’s transition from colonial rule to independence. It shows how landlords, tenants, and female traders challenged and sought to reform governmental policies concerning slum clearance, rent control, state land acquisition, and sanitation. The manuscript argues that Lagosians went beyond supporting nationalist movements but consistently pushed for urban reforms under both civilian and military regimes to improve urban policies. The research has implications for understanding contemporary megacity urban development and residents’ everyday contestationsagainst displacement. Somotan received her Ph.D. in History from Columbia University.Her research has been funded by organizations such as the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies, the University of Virginia, the Council on Library and Information, and the Mellon Foundation.

Other Recent Sessions
Segregated Medicine - How Racial Politics Shaped American Healthcare

Friday, March 11, 2022 | 4:30pm - 6:30pm ET

This talk argues that racial segregation played a critical role in shaping the development, distribution of resources, and organization of American healthcare in cities like St. Louis, MO. Segregated Medicine builds upon extant and forthcoming histories to address the central question posed in the book’s subtitle: How did racial politics, specifically the policies and practices of racial segregation and alternatively African Americans’ adaptations to it, shape the development and evolution of the American healthcare system? Eradicating segregated medicine in the 1950s and 60s combined with economic shifts in healthcare financing failed to uproot entrenched racial inequities. Desegregating American healthcare coincided with an economic restructuring of American healthcare in the 1970s and 80s that paradoxically left many African American communities without equitable access to hospital care. Narrated from a local perspective that places the intellectual, political, and social experiences of pragmatic African Americans at the center of the story, this book traces important transitions in American healthcare and their unexamined consequences on the ground. Segregated Medicine complements existing work that has largely told this story from the national political and policy perspectives.

Dr. Ezelle Sanford III Dr. Ezelle Sanford III is an Assistant Professor of History at Carnegie Mellon University and Visiting Assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University. His scholarship sits at the intersection of African American, medical, and urban histories. He is particularly interested in histories of race, science, and medicine from the 19 th century to the present.  He is currently working on a book project titled,  Segregated Medicine: How Racial Politics Shaped American Healthcare, which utilizes the case of St. Louis’s Homer G. Phillips Hospital, America’s largest segregated hospital in the mid-twentieth century, to trace how the logic and legacy of racial segregation established structures of healthcare inequality that persist to this day. His work has been featured in popular and academic publications and has received several fellowships and awards.

2021 Series

African Americans, Health, and Policing during the Age of the Corona Virus

Carnegie Mellon University has pledged to help eradicate systemic racism”from all facets of the nation’s institutions within and beyond academia. Most immediately, however, there is a preponderance of interest in understanding and dismantling racialized policing and health care systems. These institutions place African Americans and other people of color at the center of both state violence against citizens as well as the destructive impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, among other health hazards.

This collaborative speaker series, “African Americans, Health, and Policing during the Age of the Corona Virus,” will include five public lectures (three on health disparities and two on discriminatory and violent policing) and two public forums. Designed to “take stock of lessons learned” through attendance and engagement with the speakers in the lecture series, the first public forum will take place the following week after the third speaker on health inequities and the second forum will convene the week after the second talk on policing.

Vanessa Gamble Vanessa Northington Gamble: Exploring Connections between the Current Impact of Covid-19 and Past Epidemics and Pandemics in African American and U.S. History.

Friday, January 22, 2021 - 4:30-6:30pm ET

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At the Fault Lines of Racial Inequities: African Americans, the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, and COVID-19
When the 1918 influenza pandemic hit the United States, it exposed stark racial inequities that shaped the history of African Americans and the epidemic. At the time, Black Americans suffered from poor health status and premature death. Jim Crow reduced the number of health care facilities open to African Americans seeking medical care and limited avenues for Black health professionals to provide care. Racist medical theories conceptualized Black bodies as innately different or inferior to White bodies. This presentation will discuss the impact of these inequalities on African Americans’ experiences of and responses to the 1918 influenza pandemic. It will also provide historical context for understanding the racial dimensions of COVID-19. As the disproportionate impact of this disease on African Americans makes plain, epidemics continue to lay bare racial inequities in the United States.


Alondra Nelson Alondra Nelson: Contemporary Movements to Combat the Racial Disparities of Covid-19 Compared to Past Efforts to Address Epidemics and Pandemics in the United States.

Friday, February 19, 2021 - 4:30-6:00pm ET

This session was not recorded.



Aishah Scott Aishah Scott: The AIDS Epidemic in Black America: Foreshadowing the Health Disparities of COVID-19.

Friday, March 19, 2021 - 4:30-6:00pm ET

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My book manuscript, entitled “Respectability Can’t Save You: The AIDS Epidemic in Black America,” focuses on the impact of the HIV/AIDS crisis on the Black community and the role of “respectability politics”, or moral policing, on its leadership during this period. My work addresses how several forces shaped the national, local, and community responses—or lack thereof—toward the African American HIV/AIDS epidemic, especially in New York City. These forces include: the influence of the Black Church, the impact of respectability politics from federal and local government, class dynamics and gender relations. This work also examines the parallels and differences between the way Black and Latinx communities disproportionately experienced the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States. Additionally, I will explore how systemic socioeconomic disparities that left Black and Latinx communities vulnerable to HIV/AIDS also leave them vulnerable to disproportionate impact from COVID-19.


Michael Fortner Michael Fortner: From the Black Silent Majority to Black Lives Matter: The Transformation of African American Crime Politics from the 1970s until Today.

Friday, April 9, 2021 - 4:30-6:00pm ET

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This session will trace the evolution of African American crime politics from the 1970s until today. We will discuss the tension between segments of Black communities that embrace policing and those that seek its abolition and conclude by discussing the policy implications of this conflict.


Simon Balto Simon Balto: Occupied Territory: Policing Black Chicago from Red Summer to Black Power.

Friday, April 30, 2021 - 4:30-6:00pm ET

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As the summer of 2020 demonstrated, the crisis of racist policing in the United States continues apace, as do long and ongoing struggles against it. While most of the press coverage of the present crisis and the movement against it treat these twinned phenomena as new and seemingly out of nowhere, both have long histories that few Americans fully understand. This talk will explore the longer history of racist, discriminatory policing in the United States and demonstrate how that history can be used to help make sense of the present.


*Download the Spring 2021 Speaker Series event poster here.