Cynthia Blair

Associate Professor of African American Studies and History


Ph.D., Harvard University, History of American Civilization, 1999
M.A., Harvard University, History, 1989 
B.A., University of Michigan, American Culture and English, 1986

Research Interests

Cynthia Blair studies the intersection of race and sexuality in American society, African American urban history, American film and popular culture, West Indian immigration, and transnational networks and identities.  Her research focuses primarily on the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. 

Her first book, I’ve Got to Make My Livin’: Black Women’s Sex Work in Turn-Of-The-Century Chicago, explores African American women’s sex work in Chicago during the decades of some of the city’s most explosive growth, expanding not just our view of prostitution, but also of black women’s labor, the Great Migration, black and white reform movements, the emergence of modern sexuality, and the criminalization of Black women in the early twentieth century city.  The book won the Lora Romero Book Prize awarded by the American Studies Association to the best-published first book in American Studies that highlights the intersections of race with gender, class, sexuality and/or nation.

She is currently working on two research projects.  The first, Moms Mabley: A Cultural Biography, is a book project that examines the life and career of the African American comedian Jackie “Moms” Mabley.  The second, “In a Time Like This”: Jamaican Migrants to the United States, 1940-1964, is an oral history and documentary project that explores the migrations of men and women from Jamaica to the Midwestern United States at the middle of the twentieth century.

For an excerpt of I've Got to Make My Livin', please click on the image below:


Chapter Five

Leisure Culture and the Commercialization of Black women’s Sex Work, 1900-1920

Before the end of the nineteenth century, African Americans moved away from the cramped and unsavory neighborhood near the central business district, seeking better housing and more comfortable surroundings for their families, institutions, and businesses. As early as 1885 a significant number of the black community’s professional, business, labor, and institutional elite settled as far south as Thirty-Fifth Street. Working-class men and women who wanted to convert the fruits of their labor into affordable and comfortable housing soon followed the middle-class African Americans who pioneered this migration…

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Contact Information

Office: 1231 UH
Phone: (312)-996-9471
Fax: (312)-996-5799
Curriculum Vitae