On Jan. 6, 1961, U.S District Court Judge W. A. Bootle ordered the immediate admission of two black students to the University of Georgia, ending 160 years of segregation at the school. Henry Louis Gates Jr., now the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University, was 10 years old when he saw the event play out on television.
If not for a dinner in 1973, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., might today be summering on the Vineyard as a top doctor or prominent attorney, instead of a leading scholar of African American history and culture who’s also an award-winning documentary broadcaster.
On Thursday, historian and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. hosted his annual Hutchins Forum at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown. This year’s discussion centered around “A Single Garment of Destiny: MLK’s Dream in the Age of Trump.”
Nodding to Professor Henry Louis (Skip) Gates Jr. at his Whaling Church panel discussion Achieving Equality in the Age of Obama last night, Princeton professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell shook her head and said: ”If you had told me this time last year, when we were all pretty emotionally up and excited, even though George W. Bush was still our President, that we would actually feel worse a year later, when Barack Obama was our President, about questions of race in America, I would have told you you were lying.”
There were plenty of problems on the table and few easy solutions at hand as an influential panel convened Thursday evening to discuss the issue that has gone unnoticed in this issue-laden presidential election year: unemployment and high poverty rates in the African American community.
The Republican party, Donald Trump and the media all came under fire in this year’s Hutchins Forum, in the midst of what will surely be remembered as one of the most consequential presidential elections in modern time.
It was a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd at the Old Whaling Church on Wednesday, integrated by age, race and Island geography. With whispers that a hundred more were waiting outside, they filled the hall, charged with the anticipation of hearing the charismatic new voice of the Democratic Party, United States Senatorial candidate from Illinois, Barack Obama, and listening as a panel of luminaries offered their views on Brown vs. Board of Education: Mission Accomplished?
In the wake of violence in Charlottesville, Va., this year’s Hutchins Forum delved into issues surrounding free speech, confederate monuments and what to make of a president who has failed to unequivocally denounce neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
The opinions were as varied as they were emphatic: There have been great opportunities lost in the area of civil rights. Poverty affects 43 per cent of all black children in the United States, the same proportion as it did the year Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Still, African-American people are better off than ever before, and a recent poll showed that most are, in fact, content.