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Experts Available for King Holiday

Experts Available for King Holiday

Faculty members comment on Dr. King's legacy and the African American experience.

(January 8, 2008)

As the nation prepares to observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 21 and Black History Month in February, members of the UC Riverside faculty are available to comment on Dr. King’s life and legacy, the African American experience, and how the contributions of African Americans have enriched the United States.

These faculty members are available for interviews:

Ralph Crowder, associate professor of ethnic studies

Black History Month began in 1926 as Negro History Week to confront racism and defend black humanity. Its creation by Carter Godwin Woodson, director of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, followed a 35-year period (1890-1925) during which one African American was lynched every two-and-a-half days. “Black History Month should continue to be the reaffirmation of struggle, determination and creativity of blacks against racism and in defense of their humanity,” Crowder says. While it is important to acknowledge achievements of African Americans in every aspect of American life and culture, it also is important to celebrate “the creative beauty and genius of those vast numbers of black folks who have fought the day-to-day struggle of survival,” he says. Crowder is available to talk about the legacy of King and the evolution of Black History Month. Among his research interests are late 19th and 20th century African American history, Pan African history and the Black Indian experience.

Erica Edwards, assistant professor of English

Among Edwards’ research interests are black political culture and the role of charisma and masculinity in the construction of black political leaders. In post-civil rights black culture, King embodies the quintessential charismatic leader, the exemplary political spokesperson and miraculous history-maker, Edwards says. Charisma as a form of authority has become an organizing myth of black social organizations, which raises some key questions, she says. For example, is charismatic authority an acceptable means for black leadership? Charisma is important because it determines who gets to speak and who is visible. Edwards is working on a book project titled “Contesting Charisma: Fictions of Political Leadership in Contemporary African American Culture.”

V.P. Franklin, distinguished professor of history and education

While the civil rights movement and its leaders generally are regarded as positive forces, the contributions of an important radical black organization — the Black Panther Party — often are overlooked, Franklin says. The Black Power Era of the 20th century, of which the Panthers were an important part, caused a significant shift in the social, political and cultural consciousness of African Americans. However, the inability of the Black Panther Party to rein in the thug behavior of some members ultimately helped to destroy the group. Similar issues confront the hip hop generation, Franklin says. “Understanding the mistakes made by the Panthers and other black organizations in the Black Power era can serve as a positive message to those in the hip hop generation interested in advancing the movement for black liberation in the 21st century,” he says. Franklin is the author of “Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Biography” (1998) and co-authored “My Soul Is a Witness: A Chronology of the Civil Rights Era, 1954-1965.” He is editor of The Journal of African American History, formerly The Journal of Negro History, now based at UCR. The publication is the leading journal of African American history. Franklin teaches a course at UCR on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Keith M. Harris, assistant professor of English

Harris’ research interests focus on film, African American and Africana cinema, gender studies and queer theory. He is interested in examining the King legacy as a question of sexuality. “The very turbulent, post-King years and the AIDS crisis have placed gay and lesbian African Americans, to a great extent, on the outskirts of debates about African American equality,” he says. Harris is the author of “Boys, Boyz, Boies: An Ethics of Masculinity in Popular Film, Television and Video.”

Carolyn Murray, professor of psychology

Murray has initiated ground-breaking research into the stresses on African-American families and the unequal education of minority children. Her research has focused primarily on the detrimental effects of educational inequities experienced by African Americans — low self-esteem, low expectations by teachers and barriers to achievement — and the manner in which these are reflected in academic achievement. She also has examined the dynamics of parental socialization within the African-American family, paying particular attention to the development of personality. The American Psychological Association recognized a study in which Murray found that the absence of a father from the home tended to have a much more negative effect on the self-esteem of adolescent boys than on that of girls. “Although I am not a historian by training, I have found it instructive to examine these phenomena in the historical context of both pre- and post-slavery,” Murray says.

Vorris Nunley, assistant professor of English

Prior to 1964 King’s speeches emphasized the need for blacks and whites to work together to achieve equality, Nunley says. Beginning in 1964, however, a more complicated King emerged, a leader who opposed the Vietnam War and challenged notions of what it means to be an American. “This is the more dangerous King, the King who makes us uncomfortable,” Nunley says. “He challenges our notions of democracy in more substantial ways.” In addition to King’s legacy, Nunley can speak about the tradition of African American hush harbors, spheres such as beauty shops, barbershops and women’s clubs where congregants could speak freely and obtain knowledge useful in everyday life. Hush harbors may occur within different groups and cultures, from NASCAR and churches to the women’s suffrage and civil rights movements. “They produce knowledge in ways that doesn’t occur publicly,” Nunley says. “To overlook hush harbors is to overlook a substantial part of democracy.”

Jonathan Walton, assistant professor of religious studies

Walton’s research addresses the intersections between religion, politics and popular culture. He is available to talk about Martin Luther King Jr. and how the civil rights movement has evolved since the 1960s. “As cities were under siege and being burned down, there was a sense of frustration that even Dr. King felt,” Walton says. “They lost their collective optimism and it turned into an individual drive to Tupac’s ‘I’ve gotta get mine. You gotta get yours.’ It wasn’t a matter of being able to sit at the lunch counter, it was being able to afford a meal at the lunch counter.” While many people will celebrate the holiday with parades and speeches, the annual event also is a reminder of the challenges to King’s legacy. “It has become apparent that since Ronald Reagan signed King’s birthday into law, while simultaneously and systematically trying to undue all of King’s civil rights work, that America would rather idolize King’s memory as a hero of the past than try to continue to live out his prescriptions for society in the present.”

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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