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Dr. Keisha N. Blain

Dr. Keisha N. Blain

New York Times Best-Selling Author & Award-Winning Historian


Dr. Keisha N. Blain is one of the most innovative and influential young historians of her generation. Her research and writing examine the dynamics of race, gender and politics in both national and global perspectives. She completed a Ph.D. in History from Princeton University in 2014. She is a Professor of Africana Studies and History at Brown University, a columnist for MSNBC, and former president of the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS). She is the 2022 recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship and a 2022 Andrew Carnegie Fellow. Read More >

Dr. Blain is the author of Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom (2018), winner of the First Book Award from the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians and winner of the Darlene Clark Hine Award from the Organization of American Historians. Dr. Blain’s most recent book Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer's Enduring Message to America (2021) was nominated for an NAACP Image Award and selected as a finalist for the 2022 National Book Critics Circle Award in Biography.

Dr. Blain is also the co-editor of To Turn the Whole World Over: Black Women and Internationalism (2019); New Perspectives on the Black Intellectual Tradition (2018); and Charleston Syllabus: Readings on Race, Racism and Racial Violence (2016). Her latest collection is the #1 New York Times Best Seller Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019, edited with Ibram X. Kendi (2021). Four Hundred Souls was selected as a finalist for the 2022 Carnegie Medal of Excellence in Nonfiction.

Dr. Blain’s writing has been featured in The AtlanticThe Washington PostThe GuardianThe NationForeign Affairs and more. She frequently offers commentary on international, national, and local media outlets, such as BBC, PBS, MSNBC, CNN, NPR and Al Jazeera. She is the recipient of more than a dozen prestigious awards and fellowships, including a W.E.B. Du Bois Fellowship at Harvard University and fellowships from New America, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and the Ford Foundation. In 2018, she was appointed to the Organization of American Historians’ Distinguished Lectureship Program. She is a widely sought-after speaker on United States history, African American history, African Diaspora Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies. Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

A New Take on 400 Years of Black History | Amanpour and Company

Race in America: History Matters | The Washington Post

Four Hundred Souls | CBS This Morning

Russia's Decades-Long Involvement in American Racism

Charlotta Bass: Remembering First Black Woman to Run for VP in 1952 | Democracy Now

Speech Topics

Black History &* “Critical Race Theory”

Over the past few months, several state legislatures and governors have targeted “critical race theory”—a high-level legal and academic discipline. These attacks have provided justification for banning books by Black scholars and other writers of color. While the obsession over “critical race theory” is a new manifestation, it represents long-standing efforts to keep Black history—and the perspectives of Black writers—out of the classroom. The attack on “critical race theory” is often rooted in a desire to shield children from the uncomfortable aspects of history and evade “sensitive” topics, such as racism, white supremacy and inequality. In this talk, Dr. Blain argues for the importance of Black perspectives in the classroom and offers solutions for how parents, educators and concerned citizens can resist attempts to whitewash curricula in schools.

The Significance of Anti-Racism Today

Anti-racism is the active process of identifying and eliminating racism in society. At a fundamental level, anti-racist work represents an ongoing commitment to dismantling systems of oppression and challenging structures, policies, practices and attitudes that perpetuate legacies of racism. In this talk, Dr. Blain discusses the importance of anti-racist principles to the larger goals of dismantling structures of inequality in the United States and redressing past harms and injustices. The talk draws upon lessons from history to highlight various strategies and solutions to current challenges in American society.

The Significance of Black History

The struggle for Black political rights has reshaped the United States in fundamental ways. For centuries, Black people in America have resisted the social constraints and legal frameworks that have attempted to bar their political engagement. These activists, from diverse backgrounds and in various locales, have called upon everyone in the United States to play an active role in building an inclusive democracy—one that lives up to the ideals on which the nation was founded. In this talk, Dr. Blain provides a historical overview of some of the icons of the long struggle for Black political rights. The talk highlights the many strategies Black people employed to ensure that they would have full rights as citizens of the United States.

Black Women & the Civil Rights Movement

While mainstream historical narratives tend to focus on the political work of men such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Lewis, Black women played instrumental roles in shaping the Civil Rights Movement. These women were community organizers and leaders, sustaining the movement as it grew from local communities into a national struggle. Black women, such as Ella Baker, Diana Nash, Jo Ann Robinson and Fannie Lou Hamer, were central to the movement’s success. In this talk, Dr. Blain highlights the significance of these women’s activism during the 1950s and 1960s and brings to light some of the resistance they encountered as women organizing in male-dominated spaces. The talk also emphasizes solutions for how we can confront some of the persistent challenges of sexism and misogyny today.

Black Women & the Struggle for Human Rights

The history of human rights is often told through the ideas of White men. However, Black women throughout U.S. history have been at the forefront of challenging racism and white supremacy on the global stage. From Ida B. Wells to today’s Black Lives Matter leaders, Black women have effectively used the language of human rights to address racial injustice in the United States and abroad. Although Black women were largely shut out of the formal halls of power for much of United States history, they utilized a range of strategies and tactics to agitate for the rights of all people. In this talk, Dr. Blain offers a new history of human rights thinking and activism by recounting how Black women in the United States, in various locales and from diverse social backgrounds, fought for the rights and dignity of all.