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SAH | Places Prize Lecture by Ginger Nolan: “Black Capitalism and the City: African American Insurance and the Actuarial Imagination”

About the program


Program Location

Graham Foundation, 4 West Burton Place

Society of Architectural Historians

1365 N Astor St, Chicago, IL 60610

Nolan’s talk explores how African American-owned insurance companies negotiated the (often vexed) aims of pursuing financial gain while also trying to create more equitable cities. For most of the twentieth century, these insurance companies controlled more wealth than any other African American enterprise and played an outsize role in shaping cities and suburbs. In efforts to reverse the effects of redlining, disinvestment, and segregation, these companies used housing developments and corporate architecture—including the first and only African American skyscraper—to redress discriminatory forms of urbanism and racial stereotypes. The talk will evaluate the urban and architectural interventions of African American insurance companies, using the companies’ office buildings, housing developments, and mortgage-lending practices to engage debates around Black capitalism and Black Marxism. While recent scholarship has focused on the biopolitical tendencies of the white-owned insurance industry, the history of African American insurance demands a more subtle analytical framework, as these companies’ efforts vacillated between the biofinancial logics of actuarial techniques and, on the other hand, strategies of care and contestation.

The City is the Site