The life and groundbreaking career of a famed civil rights lawyer who argued and won nine cases before the U.S. Supreme Court will be the topic of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s inaugural lecture series in African American history.
The Fleming-Morrow Distinguished Lecture in African American History kicks off Thursday, March 10, with a look into the life of Constance Baker Motley, the first black woman appointed to the federal bench.
Tomiko Brown-Nagin, the Daniel P.S. Paul Professor of Constitutional Law and professor of history at Harvard University, will deliver the address from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in Room 132 of the UT College of Law, 1505 Cumberland Ave. It is free and open to the public.
The UT Department of History and College of Law are sponsoring the event.
Brown-Nagin’s lecture is titled “The Honor and Burden of Being First: The Life and Times of Constance Baker Motley.” Motley, appointed judge in the U.S. District Court in New York in 1966, issued rulings that helped remove professional barriers for women and criminal defendants.
A reception will follow the lecture. Brown-Nagin also will sign her book, “Courage to Dissent: Atlanta and the Long History of the Civil Rights Movement.” The book won the 2012 Bancroft Prize in American History, the highest honor awarded annually to work in the field of history.
The lecture aims to increase the national and international profile of the UT history department by placing it at the center of the scholarly conversation about African American history, said Shannen Williams, UT assistant professor of history and one of the lecture’s organizers. This will help attract top graduate students and also enrich undergraduate and graduate training at UT.
The new lecture series demonstrates the importance of history to contemporary society and will “radically change how we understand American history,” Williams said.
“African American history is American history,” Williams said. “We are all better for it when we all have a more honest accounting of American history.”
The series also aims to prepare UT students to face the world they will encounter after college and equip them to engage with a diverse group of people, said Brandon Winford, UT assistant professor of history and the lecture’s co-organizer.
“It’s not just us telling our students about the past,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to help shape the conversations now.”
Williams and Winford are spearheading efforts to raise funds to endow the lecture series. The money also would provide two annual scholarships—one to a student of African American history and a second to a student of military history. Give to the endowment online.
The lecture series is named after Cynthia Griggs Fleming, a prominent historian of the civil rights movement, and John H. Morrow Jr., a distinguished military historian.
Fleming was the first black woman faculty member in the UT history department and one of the first two black women hired in the College of Arts and Sciences. She chaired the African American Studies program for a decade. She retired from UT in 2014 after 32 years of service.
Fleming will be honored Thursday, March 3, at the Trailblazer Series, presented by the Commission for Blacks and the Office for Diversity and Inclusion. The Trailblazer Series recognizes African Americans who are affiliated with UT and the Knoxville community.
Morrow was the first black faculty member and department head in the College of Arts and Sciences. He taught at UT for 17 years and during that time was selected Macebearer, the highest honor a faculty member can receive. He led the UT Department of History from 1983 to 1988. He currently is the Franklin Professor of History at the University of Georgia.