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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 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 launched 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.

2022-2023 SERIES

In order to help deepen our understanding of reparations and redress movements in African American history, our 2022-2023 Speakers Series features six lectures on the diverse components of the restorative justice theme in national and transnational perspective.

A reception in honor of the speaker will be held from 3:30 - 4:30 pm before each talk. Food and drinks will be provided.

Situating Faith Communities in the Struggle for Reparations

Friday, October 7, 2022 | 4:30pm - 6:00pm ET | Cohon University Center - Danforth

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The presentation will examine reparations advocacy by a vanguard of African American clergy proponents, from Bishop Henry McNeil Turner’s late-19th century demands for federal payments toward emigrationism and Black Atlantic linkages, to 21st century black clergy involvements in national level, local level, and sector specific reparations policy activism. Attention will be paid to evolving theoretical and operational framings of this reparations advocacy and to variances in levels of American religious and political receptivity to reparations proposals. Prospects for Pittsburgh-area reparations pursuits, including current Hill District initiatives, will be viewed against these broader historical and contextual trajectories of American public and black religious responsiveness to reparations concerns.

R. Drew Smith, Ph.D. R. Drew Smith, Professor of Urban Ministry and Senior Research Fellow of the Metro-Urban Institute, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary; Ph.D., Yale University. Author: From Every Mountainside: Black Churches and the Terrain of Civil Rights and co-author: Racialized Health, Covid19, Religious Responses.

Dr. R. Drew Smith is a political scientist and ordained clergyman, and is professor of urban ministry and former director of the Metro-Urban Institute at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He has an appointment as well as a research professor at the Institute of Gender Studies at the University of South Africa. He is founding co-convener of the Transatlantic Roundtable on Religion and Race, a network of scholars, activists, and community leaders focused on intersections of religion and various markers of social difference. Dr. Smith has initiated and directed a number of projects related to religion and public life which have collected research data on political involvements, community development activities, and outreach ministries of churches, especially African American churches. He also has conducted similar research in South Africa and East Africa, including while serving in 2005 as a Fulbright professor at the University of Pretoria. His overseas involvements additionally include serving in 2009 as a Fulbright senior specialist at Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Cameroon and lecturing in many international venues, including as part of the U.S. State Department’s Speakers Bureau. He has published widely on religion and public life, having edited or co-edited ten books and having published more than 80 articles, chapters, essays, and reports. He has recently completed writing a book on contemporary black clergy activism (under contractwith Columbia University Press) and is currently writing a book on urban imaginaries and sacredness of place. He earned his undergraduate degree from Indiana University, and his master of divinity and a master of arts and Ph.D. in political science from Yale University.


Crucible of Care: Race, Class, and Gender in Pittsburgh's Transition from Steel to Health Care

Friday, November 11, 2022 | 4:30pm - 6:00pm ET | Cohon University Center - Dowd Room

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The decline of Pittsburgh's steel industry and the rise of its giant health care sector were deeply interconnected processes. Deindustrialization made the region older, poorer, and sicker, and health care institutions proved the best positioned to respond to this demographic shock. As hospitals and nursing homes grew, they hired from the most vulnerable layers of the labor market—particularly the African American women who had been most marginalized by the employment patterns of the industrial period. In this way, the transition to a service economy remade patterns of class, racial, and gender inequality.

Gabriel Winant, Ph.D. Gabriel Winant, Assistant Professor, U.S. History, University of Chicago; Ph.D., Yale University. Author: The Next Shift: The Fall of Manufacturing and the Rise of Health Care in Rust Belt America and, in-progress, Our Weary Years: How the Working Class Survived Industrial America.

Dr. Gabriel Winant is assistant professor of history at the University of Chicago. His book,The Next Shift: The Fall of Industry and the Rise of Health Care in Rust Belt America, was published last year and received the Frederick Jackson Turner Prize for best first book in U.S. history. His writing also regularly appears in publications such as Dissent, The Nation, and n+1.


The Bonds of Inequality: Debt and the Urban African American Experience

Friday, February 10, 2023 | 4:30pm - 6:00pm ET | Cohon University Center - Danforth

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Indebtedness, like inequality, has become a ubiquitous condition in the United States. Yet few have probed American cities’ dependency on municipal debt, and how the terms of municipal finance structure racial privileges, entrench spatial neglect, elide democratic input, and distribute wealth and power. In this lecture, Destin Jenkins explores how, beyond the borrowing decisions of American cities and beneath their quotidian infrastructure, there lurks a world of politics and finance that is rarely seen, let alone understood. He also unearths the fiscal inquests of African Americans who employed various tactics to break the bonds of segregation.

Destin Jenkins Destin Jenkins, Assistant Professor, Department of History, Stanford University; Ph.D., Stanford University. Author: The Bonds of Inequality: Debt and the Making of the American City and co-author: Histories of Racial Capitalism.

Dr. Destin Jenkins is a historian of democracy and capitalism in post-Reconstruction America. He is currently an assistant professor of history at Stanford University. He is the author of The Bonds of Inequality: Debt and the Making of the American City (The University of Chicago Press, 2021), and co-editor of Histories of Racial Capitalism (Columbia University Press, 2021).


Somebody Has to Pay: Queen Mother Audley Moore and the Modern Reparations Movement

Friday, February 24, 2023 | 4:30pm - 6:00pm ET | Cohon University Center - Danforth

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Reparations is now a common concept even if people disagree on the importance or mechanics of repayment. But where did the idea of reparations for Black people come from and how should repayment work? These and other questions were at the heart of the modern reparations movement started and sustained by “Queen Mother” Audley Moore. This paper offers an overview of Black women’s leadership of the reparations movement with special attention to Moore’s theorizing and activism in support of reparations. It chronicles how, through her reparations campaigns, Moore empowered everyday people to think about how addressing the past might help them better understand the present and prepare for the future and how shelaid the groundwork for the increasing number of reparations bills, programs, and restitution funds of today.

Ashley Farmer, Ph.D. Ashley Farmer, Associate Professor, Departments of History and African and African Diaspora Studies, University of Texas-Austin; Ph.D., Harvard UniversityAuthor: Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era and, forthcoming, Queen Mother Audley Moore: Mother of Black Nationalism.

Dr. Ashley D. Farmer is a historian of black women's history, intellectual history, and radical politics. She is currently an Associate Professor in the Departments of History and African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era and a co-editor of New Perspectives on the Black Intellectual Tradition. Farmer's scholarship has appeared in numerous venues including The Black Scholar and The Journal of African American History. Her research has also been featured in several popular outlets including Vibe, NPR, The Chronicle Review, and The Washington Post. Her current book project is Queen Mother Audley Moore: Mother of Black Nationalism.


Gentrification and the Struggle over the Postindustrial City: The View from Harlem

Friday, March 17, 2023 | 4:30pm - 6:00pm ET | Location TBD

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In the last four decades of the twentieth century, Harlem, New York—America’s most famous historically Black neighborhood—transformed from the archetypal symbol of midcentury “urban crisis” to the most celebrated example of “urban renaissance” in the United States. Once a favored subject for sociologists studying profound poverty and physical decline in the postindustrial city, by the new millennium Harlem found itself increasingly the site of refurbished brownstones, shiny glass and steel shopping centers, and a growing middle-class population. Drawing from Brian D. Goldstein’s book, The Roots of Urban Renaissance: Gentrification and the Struggle Over Harlem (to be republished in spring 2023 in an expanded paperback edition), this lecture will trace this arc in order to reveal the complicated history of social and physical transformation that has changed many American urban centers in the last several decades. Gentrification is often described as a process controlled by outsiders, with clear winners and losers, victors and victims. In contrast, this talk will explore the central role that Harlemites themselves played in reshaping Harlem and bringing about its urban renaissance, an outcome that had both positive and negative effects for their neighborhood.

Destin Jenkins Brian D. Goldstein, Associate Professor of Art History, Swarthmore College; Ph.D., Harvard University.  Author: The Roots of Urban Renaissance: Gentrification and the Struggle over Harlem and, in-progress, If Architecture Were for People: The Life and Work of J. Max Bond, Jr.

Dr. Brian D. Goldstein is an architectural and urban historian and an associate professor at Swarthmore College. His research focuses on the intersection of the built environment, race and class,and social movements, especially in the United States. His writing includes the book The Roots of Urban Renaissance: Gentrification and the Struggle Over Harlem (expanded edition forthcoming from Princeton University Press, 2023), winner of the 2020 John Friedmann Book Award from the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning and the 2019 Lewis Mumford Prize for the Best Book in Planning History. His articles have appeared in the Journal of American History, Buildings & Landscapes, Journal of Urban History, and the edited volumes Radical Pedagogies; Affordable Housing in NewYork; Reassessing Rudolph; and Summer in the City: John Lindsay, New York, and the American Dream. He has received fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, and Society of Architectural Historians. He is currently writing If Architecture Were for People: The Life and Work of J. Max Bond, Jr., under contract with Princeton University Press.


Reparations for Black Americans in the twenty-First Century

Friday, April 21, 2023 | 4:30pm - 6:00pm ET | Cohon University Center - Danforth

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Details will be forthcoming soon.

William Darity & A. Kirsten Mullen William A. Darity, Jr., is the Samuel DuBois Cook Professor of Public Policy, African and African American Studies, and Economics and Director of the S. D. Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University; he is also a former chair of the Department of African and African American Studies. Co-author with A. K. Mullen, From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century.

A. Kirsten Mullen is a folklorist and founder of Artefactual, an arts-consulting firm; member of the concept development team that designed the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture; and faculty member of the Community Folklife Documentation Institute. Co-author with W.A. Darity, From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century.

2021-2022 Series

Segregated Medicine - How Racial Politics Shaped American Healthcare

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

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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.

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

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

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Amid the coronavirus pandemic, housing evictions continue to undermine public health and economic livelihood. This presentation explores how urban dwellers dealt with housing insecurities during a different moment of global economic and political upheaval: World War II. Specifically, it will discuss how 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.

2020-2021 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.