Monday’s convocation, one of the most anticipated events on each year’s Wittenberg Series calendar, was a fairly traditional, solemn affair with an academic procession and a brief introduction by Wittenberg President Mark Erickson until Bruce Robinson of Cincinnati, Ohio, class of 2006, got up to introduce the speaker.
Robinson, president of Concerned Black Students (CBS), implored the audience to show some energy. Quoting King, Robinson went on to tell the packed house of faculty, staff, students and local community members that, “Faith is taking the first step even when you didn’t see the whole staircase.” Hunter-Gault was forced to take several significant leaps of faith during her academic and professional careers, and Robinson spoke admiringly of her courage in the face of extraordinary racism.
Replacing Henry Louis Gates, the originally scheduled speaker who was unable to attend the convocation due to health problems, Hunter-Gault was a fitting choice for the convocation address after breaking new ground at the University of Georgia and within the ranks of professional journalists everywhere. The convocation was presented with support from the Endowment for the William A. Kinnison Endowed Lecture in History and was co-sponsored by the Department of Africana Studies, the Office of Multicultural Programs and Concerned Black Students (CBS).
Hunter-Gault made civil rights history in 1963 when she became the first African American woman to graduate from the University of Georgia. She discusses her experiences in a memoir titled In My Place (1992), and she went into great detail about the experience of breaking through the academic color barrier in the segregated south during her address.
After graduating from Georgia with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, Hunter-Gault became the first African American reporter for The New Yorker. Since then, she worked for the New York Times, directed a minority journalism program at Columbia University, served as a national correspondent for Public Broadcasting Service’s (PBS) The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer before becoming CNN’s Johannesburg bureau chief and correspondent in 1999. Now with NPR in the same capacity, Hunter-Gault spent more than 16 hours on airplanes en route to Wittenberg.
A recipient of two Emmy awards for her television work and two Peabody awards for her work in radio, Hunter-Gault said that the active way in which Wittenberg annually chooses to honor King is what the slain civil rights leader would have wanted.
“I exhort you not to let it end today,” said Hunter-Gault, who became the first African American to give a commencement address at the University of Georgia in 1988. “My own humble opinion is that the best way to honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy is not to sit but to stand up for justice and equality.”
Wittenberg’s King Committee, chaired by Lillian Franklin, associate professor of languages and acting director of Africana studies, aims to help the university find programming appropriate to observe the holiday. In addition to the convocation, King is being honored this week in a variety of campus activities.
In addition, a public showing of the major motion picture Crash, a film about racial intolerance in contemporary America, took place in Ness Family Auditorium and rooms 217 and 315 in Hollenbeck Hall on Jan. 12. A second showing will take place at 7 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 19, in the same locations.
Wittenberg’s campus radio station (WUSO-89.1 FM) broadcasted “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” an audio series about the history of the Civil Rights Movement and the music from the era throughout the day.
Finally, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s community involvement, the King Committee is sponsoring a service project called Witt Reads. The project will be held in two phases. The first involves a book drive for elementary and middle-school students. During the second phase, which continues into February, also designated Black History Month, Wittenberg students, faculty and staff are encouraged to read to students in elementary and middle schools.
- Ryan Maurer
• Wittenberg Welcomes Charlayne Hunter-Gault For Martin Luther King Jr. Day Convocation
• Wittenberg's Martin Luther King Jr. Day Home Page
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