OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

N. D. B. Connolly

Portrait of N. D. B. Connolly

N. D. B. Connolly is the Herbert Baxter Adams Associate Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University and a co-host of the American history podcast BackStory. His research considers racism and the American presidency, capitalism, racial segregation, West Indian immigration to the United States, and the relationship between community building and real estate development. Raised in South Florida, he is the author of A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida (2014), winner of the OAH Liberty Legacy Foundation Award, the Urban History Association's Kenneth T. Jackson Award, and the Southern Historical Association's Bennett H. Wall Award. In addition to teaching, writing, and speaking widely, Connolly serves on the executive board of the Urban History Association. In 2009 he won the Arthur Fondiler Award for Best Dissertation, and in 2010 he received the Institute for the Humanities' "Emerging Scholars Prize" at the University of Michigan.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

For over one hundred years, legalized racial segregation decided who got what in America. The system widely known as Jim Crow segregation, however, remained complicated and confusing, going through several iterations and, some argue, never quite disappearing. Concerned principally with the final generation of Americans to live under formal apartheid, N. D. B. Connolly explores the evolution of racially segregated communities, institutions, and consumer spaces after World War II. This lecture features primary historical documents that trouble our typical good vs. evil understanding of apartheid, and it considers the extent to which capitalism in the United States needed segregation in order to survive the geopolitical challenges of Fascism and the Cold War.
Historians generally recognize black liberalism as the ability of African-descended peoples to use the American state for social and economic redress. And most scholars presume that such power began with the New Deal, as black people began moving into Franklin Roosevelt's Democratic Party on the promise of improved employment options, greater access to federal civil rights protection, and new appointments of African Americans to visible federal and advisory posts (i.e. Roosevelt's "Black Cabinet"). N. D. B. Connolly locates the origins of black liberalism somewhere else entirely. He argues that black liberalism emerged from the political prerogatives of Southern black business people who, since the end of Reconstruction, recognized the relationship between white power and state power and used their standing as entrepreneurs to secure gains from local, white supremacist governments. Even after suffering wide disenfranchisement at the end of the nineteenth century and even as they lived under the shroud of lynch law, black business people, from the local level up, took advantage of an overlapping and interracial set of concerns about property rights. They successfully and repeatedly gained concessions from municipal and county governments by forming important if troubled alliances with white property owners. They also treated blackness itself as a kind of property, making it part of broader efforts to secure federal and local protections of black-owned private property.
Drawing largely from his book, A World More Concrete, N. D. B. Connolly explores the sweeping and intimate workings of capital in the urban Atlantic World. He argues for understanding racial segregation as a process of capital extraction. He also asks us to consider the development of American liberalism as consequence of political deals and rent-seeking practices that were at once transnational, regional, and interpersonal. By interrogating the movement and concentration of people and power, Connolly casts the modern American city as a uniquely hemispheric site of opportunity and hardship. Perhaps, too, he points the way to a new approach to urban America, one that reconsiders the colonial aspects of everyday life in the twentieth-century city.
How have black appointees proved instrumental to the preservation of the U.S. presidency and to the durability of America’s political center more generally? This lecture explores the relationship between black people, political legitimacy, and American presidents. N. D. B. Connolly considers whether U.S. presidents and their appointees have operated within a relatively consistent political script, one that has endured a great many historical changes and political circumstances. He suggests that, quite apart from whether the actual president is black, blackness, through presidential appointments, has mattered a great deal to the American presidency and to the perceived authority of those who hold the office.
N. D. B. Connolly's lecture considers how conventional ways of analyzing black political resistance have left observers blind to the existence of an African-American “Property Rights Movement.” As with more storied histories of civil rights and voting rights, the history black property rights, Connolly suggests, reflects a twentieth-century chock full of halfway victories and Faustian bargains. It provides a window into a Jim Crow Age – perhaps not too different from our own – where millionaire landlords worked as agents of black uplift and working-class activists advocated for suburban class segregation and massive displacements of the black poor. The history of black property rights, he maintains, offers a history of men and women who pursued personal freedom through developing and encouraging in other an owner’s relationship to the land, one that promised to emancipate "the Negro" from the coercive power of wage labor and the state.
The summer of 1919 -- so-called "Red Summer" -- brought racial violence to England, Latin America, the United States, and the Caribbean. In the throes of that unrest, British colonial officials and their subjects established a "Repatriation" program, meant to send African- and Asian-descended people back to the remote corners of the empire. In short order, all the apparent simplicity of merely sending people "back" raised powerful and fraught questions about who counted as British, what counted as black, and what to do with the white wives of Britain's black men. The answers to those questions would not just affect the lives of of the people living in the wake of the Great War. They would echo forward through generations of black Atlantic families, shaping in no small way the meaning of West Indian identity -- indeed, manhood and womenhood -- for the remainder of the twentieth century. Through an intimate, familial view of British imperialism and its consequences, N. D. B. Connolly explores the meaning of gender, interracial marriage, and generational memory in the Atlantic World.