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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 an Associate Professor of History at the University of Pittsburgh, a columnist for MSNBC, and the president of the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS). She is currently a fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University and a member of the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study. Read More >

Dr. Blain is the author of Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom (2018), which won the First Book Award from the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians and the Darlene Clark Hine Award from the Organization of American Historians. She is 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 books are the #1 New York Times Best Seller Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019, edited with Ibram X. Kendi (2021); and Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer's Enduring Message to America (2021).

Dr. Blain’s writing has been featured in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Nation, Foreign 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 postdoctoral research fellowships from 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 Women & the Struggle for Human Rights

In 2016, Nigerian American activist Opal Tometi—one of the founders of Black Lives Matter (BLM)—stood before the United Nations General Assembly days after the police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. She used the opportunity to describe three barriers to the cause of human rights: global capitalism, white supremacy, and the suppression of democracy.  Like Tometi, Black women throughout US history have been at the forefront of challenging racism and white supremacy on the global stage. From Ida B. Wells to today’s BLM leaders, Black women have effectively used the language of human rights to address racial injustice in the United States and abroad. In this talk, Dr. Blain draws connections between past and present to demonstrate how Black women’s activism has been vital to the cause of human rights.

Fannie Lou Hamer’s Enduring Message to America

While mainstream historical narratives tend to focus on the political work of male activists such as Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis, Black women played instrumental roles in shaping the Civil Rights Movement. One of these individuals was Fannie Lou Hamer. A disabled and impoverished Black woman from Mississippi, Hamer played a vital role in expanding voting rights for Black Americans through her unsurpassed bravery and her skillful use of public testimony. After enduring a life-altering beating in a Winona, Mississippi, jailhouse, Hamer went on to help establish the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and electrified the nation when she delivered a moving speech at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Her televised testimony, which described the violence that she and other Black Mississippians encountered when they attempted to cast a ballot, stunned a national audience and helped to propel the movement for Black voting rights. In this talk, Dr. Blain centers Hamer’s life and activism during the 1960s, revealing how they provide inspiration and practical guidance for social justice activists today.

The History of American Policing

Protests erupted in the spring and summer of 2020, following the police killings of George Floyd—a 46-year-old Black man in Minneapolis—and Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman in Louisville. The widespread demonstrations, which rapidly spread across the nation and the globe, brought increasing attention to a persistent problem in American society: police violence. Drawing on her extensive knowledge as a historian, Dr. Blain shows how the deaths of Floyd and Taylor follow a tragic pattern of racist, state-sanctioned violence that has shaped U.S. history for centuries. Beginning with the period of slavery and ending with the rise of Black Lives Matter, Dr. Blain follows the development of American policing, highlighting key historical moments as well as individual and collective efforts among Black activists to bring an end to police violence from the early twentieth century to the present.

The Historical Foundations of the Racial Wealth Gap

Today, the wealth of the average Black family is only one-tenth that of the average white family—a problem that economists in 2018 found to be consistent for the last 70 years. In this talk, Dr. Blain explains how the racial wealth gap in the United States resulted from the deliberate actions of individuals and institutional policies since the nation’s founding. During the nineteenth century and the decades to follow, white planters and businessmen built generational wealth from the exploitation of Black Americans. Realtors, bankers, and government officials—with the backing of the state and legal system—worked to limit Black homeownership and economic mobility. Dr. Blain draws on American history to show how today’s racial wealth gap is no mere aberration—but the result of a continuous cycle of racist and exclusionary practices combined with discriminatory federal and state policies that denied financial resources to African Americans.