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Robin D.G. Kelley

Robin D.G. Kelley

Professor of African American Studies & Author

Robin D.G. Kelley

Professor of African American Studies & Author


Author and historian Robin D.G. Kelley is one of the most distinguished experts on African American studies and a celebrated professor who has lectured at some of America’s highest learning institutions. He is currently Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California.

Kelley has just completed the definitive biography of jazz pianist/composer Thelonious Monk titled, Thelonious Monk: His Story, History Song, His Times and is best known for his books on African American culture: Race Rebels: Culture Politics and the Black Working Class, Yo’ Mama’s DisFunktional!: Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America and Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination. He is currently working on another book, Speaking in Tongues: Jazz and Modern Africa.

His career spans several esteemed universities, including serving as a Professor of History and Africana at New York University as well as acting as Chairman of NYU’s History Department. While at NYU, Kelley was one of the youngest full professors in the country at 32 years of age. He was also the William B. Ransford Professor of Cultural and Historical Studies at Columbia and helped to shape programs at its Institute for Research in African American Studies.

Kelley’s work includes seven books as well as over 100 magazine articles, which have been featured in such publications as The Nation, Monthly Review, The Voice Literary Supplement, The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, Code Magazine, Utne Reader, and  African Studies Review. He received his PhD in US History and MA in African History from UCLA.

Speaker Videos

Transcending Race

Speech Topics

Before Obama: How Black Folks Saved American Democracy

Kelly argues that Obama's call for "change" is part of a very long tradition of black movements demanding more from America and in the process transforming democracy. From the end of slavery to the Civil Rights movement, not to mention Shirley Chisholm's and Jesse Jackson's presidential campaigns, African Americans have literally changed the Constitution, created institutions essential to our modern democracy, and envisioned a more inclusive civic culture.

Teaching to Change the World: Transforming Public Education

This lecture asks, what are we educating our children for? What kind of citizens, what kind of human beings do we want them to become? Using the Mississippi Freedom Schools as a model, Kelly critiques the current direction of American public education and offer a radically different vision for transforming our schools.

The Secret Racial History of American Prosperity

Most people think of racism and the legacy of slavery as a "black thing." But this troubling history continues to provide significant financial benefits for whites. This lecture exposes how slavery, segregation, racism, and government policy generated wealth for a large segment of white America while impoverishing most African Americans and Latinos.

Thelonious Monk: The Life and Music of an American Genius

Another Reconstruction?: Race and Reparations in Post-Katrina America

‘We Threaten the World’: African Americans and U.S. Empire

‘A Joyful Noise’: Modern Jazz and Spirituality