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Pulitzer-Prize winning author speaks at annual MLK Jr. lecture

Focusing on King’s legacy and the civil rights era, Branch examines historical struggles

“The proper way to celebrate the King Day is to do something that takes you beyond the common boundaries of comfort,” said Pulitzer Prize-winning author Taylor Branch during the University’s 17th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Lecture Thursday.

Branch spoke about King’s legacy and the fight for political rights in the civil rights era during his talk in Salomon 101. “Dr. King reached deep into our legacy of citizenship and for me, that is the lesson,” said Branch, whose address entailed equal parts anecdote and reflection.

Branch is an author and speaker best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the civil rights era, “America in the King Years.” Branch has received numerous other awards and grants, including a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship — “the genius grant” — and, in 2008, a Dayton Literary Peace Prize Lifetime Achievement Award. Branch published another book about the civil rights era last year, “The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement.”

During his lecture, “Myth and Miracles from the King Years,” Branch addressed his own involvement in the civil rights movement and the importance of King’s legacy as a paradigm for future activism.

Branch first spoke of his formative years in the segregated South, and his post-college experiences when he returned to join the movement for African-American voting rights.

Branch further reflected on African Americans’ activism in a time of partisan gridlock and political disagreement during the presidencies of John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

He drew connections between civil rights leaders and the Founding Fathers. Each “confronted systems of subjugation and hierarchy and found ways to move the country,” he said.

The annual Martin Luther King Jr. Lecture is organized and sponsored by the Office of Institutional Diversity, the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and the Cogut Center for the Humanities. This year’s lecture marked the 50th anniversary of a sister-school relationship between Brown and Tougaloo College — a historically black, liberal arts school in Jackson, Miss. — and was streamed live to an audience of students at both schools.

Branch’s keynote lecture was preceded by a musical selection from the a cappella group Shades of Brown and an introduction from Provost Mark Schlissel P’15. Branch will participate in a panel discussion about King’s 1964 speeches in Berlin today at noon in Pembroke Hall.


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