OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Jelani Cobb

Portrait of Jelani Cobb

Jelani Cobb is the Ira A. Lipman Professor of Journalism at Columbia University and a staff writer for The New Yorker, where he writes frequently about race, politics, history and culture. Prior to joining the faculty at Columbia, he was an associate professor of history and the director of the Africana Studies Institute at the University of Connecticut where he specialized in post-Civil War African American history, twentieth-century American politics, and the history of the Cold War. He has received the 2015 Sidney Hillman Award for Opinion and Analysis writing as well as fellowships from the Fulbright and Ford Foundations. He is the author of The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress (2010), To the Break of Dawn: A Freestyle on the Hip Hop Aesthetic (2007), and The Devil and Dave Chappelle and Other Essays (2007). His articles and essays have appeared in the Washington Post, The New Republic, Essence, Vibe, The Progressive, and TheRoot.com, and he has contributed to a number of anthologies. He is also the editor of The Essential Harold Cruse: A Reader (2002). His forthcoming book is "Antidote to Revolution: African American Anticommunism and the Struggle for Civil Rights, 1931." Cobb is participating in the OAH Distinguished Lectureship Program in partnership with the Lavin Agency.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

At the 2015 Hillman Prize ceremony, presenter and journalist Hendrik Hertzberg described the work of Jelani Cobb as combining the “rigor and depth of a professional historian with the alertness of a reporter, the liberal passion of an engaged public intellectual and the literary flair of a fine writer.” So it is with Cobb’s riveting, auspicious keynotes: up-to-the-moment meditations and breakdowns of the complex dynamics of race and racism in America. Whether speaking on Black Lives Matter and activism, the battle zones of Ferguson or Baltimore, the legacy of a black presidency, or the implications of the Trump era—or, more generally, on the history of civil rights, violence, and inequality in employment, housing, or incarceration in the US—Cobb speaks with the surety and articulate passion of only our best journalists. His keynotes inspire us to work, tirelessly, toward achieving an ongoing dream of equity—of genuine democracy. They show us that not only are the levers of justice in our hands, but we can move them in the direction we see fit. And they remind us that the only obstacle holding us back is the comforting illusion that we’ve already achieved our goals (description provided with permission from the Lavin Agency)