Writer Peniel Joseph to discuss post- racial America during talk at URI, April 7

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The killings of Trayvon Martin, other African American men among topics

KINGSTON, R.I. – March 11, 2015 – The killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida three years ago sparked a nationwide debate about racial injustice in America, especially after the killer, George Zimmerman, was acquitted.


Then came more killings – Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice – and the nation exploded. There were riots in Missouri, demonstrations in New York, candlelight vigils in Cleveland — and even a peaceful gathering at URI.


Writer, activist and former URI history professor Peniel E. Joseph will discuss these horrific deaths and race relations in America during a talk next month at the University of Rhode Island for the annual humanities festival.


“Trayvon, Michael, Eric, Tamir … Post-Racial America?” will start at 7 p.m. on April 7 in the Agnes G. Doody Auditorium, Swan Hall, 30 Upper College Road, on the Kingston campus.


A panel discussion with URI professors will follow at 7:45 p.m. Participating in the discussion will be URI history professors Robert Widell and Rae Ferguson. Naomi R. Thompson, associate vice president for the Office of Community, Equity and Diversity, will moderate the discussion.


All events are free and open to the public.


“The center is interested in introducing the URI community to different perspectives,” says Annu Palakunnathu Matthew, director of the URI Center for the Humanities. “The strength of the humanities allows us to connect the dots between the past and contemporary events to give them more context. I am thrilled to welcome Peniel Joseph back to our campus.”


The killings of Martin, Garner, Brown and Rice have become symbols of escalating racial problems in America.


Martin, a 17-year-old high school student, died in 2012 in Florida when neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman shot him. Martin, unarmed, was returning to his father’s apartment after buying candy and a fruit drink at convenience store. Zimmerman was eventually acquitted.


Brown, also unarmed, died in August in Ferguson, Mo., during an altercation with police officer Darren Wilson. He was 18 and preparing for college. A grand jury voted not to indict Wilson.


Garner, also unarmed, died after New York Police Department Officer Daniel Pantaleo placed him in a chokehold, a death ruled a homicide by the medical examiner. “I can’t breathe,” uttered Garner, moments before he died. A grand jury also decided not to indict Garner.


And 12-year-old Rice was shot by a Cleveland police officer Nov. 22 in a park after he responded to a 911 call reporting a person pointing a gun, which turned out to be a toy pistol. Officer Timothy Loehmann shot Tamir seconds after arriving at the scene. That death was also ruled a homicide by the medical examiner.


Joseph will bring to URI his vast knowledge of African American history, culture and politics.


The son of Haitian immigrants, Joseph was raised in New York City by a single parent – his mother. History was an integral part of his childhood. Conversations at the dinner table centered on Haitian history, labor politics, anti-racist struggles and social justice.


“Activism, in a variety of forms from joining organizations, standing on picket lines, protesting the Gulf War, apartheid in South Africa and the quarantine of Haitian refugees in Guantanamo, is a legacy passed on from my mother, a trade-unionist, hospital worker and member of Local 1199 for almost 40 years,” Joseph writes on his website.


As an undergraduate at Stony Brook University, he was a campus activist and wrote for the campus newspaper, Black World. He went on to earn his doctorate at Temple University in Philadelphia, where he was involved in issues involving police brutality and the death penalty.


At Temple, where he received his doctorate in American history, he wrote about the Black Power Movement, focusing on the era’s iconic figures. “The sheer vastness of the historical era, a canvas broad enough to include a diversity of ethnicities that range from Caribbean-born Black Power activists to Jewish civil rights supporters, African rulers, White House officials and Black Muslims, is perhaps the most enduring story of our time,” he writes. “Yet most people are unaware of the period’s expansive hopefulness, radical democracy and contemporary resonance.”


His book, Waiting ’Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America and Dark Days and Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama, re-introduces the world to that turbulent time in America.


Joseph was an assistant professor of History, African Studies and African American Studies at URI from 2000 to 2005, and is now a tenured professor of history at Tufts University.


He is also the founder of a growing sub-field in American history and Africana Studies that he has characterized as Black Power Studies, which is actively rewriting post-war American and African American history.


Joseph is a frequent national commentator on race, democracy and civil rights who appears on C-SPAN’s Book TV, National Public Radio and PBS NewsHour. He is the recipient of fellowships from Harvard University’s Charles Warren Center, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Ford Foundation. His essays have appeared in The Journal of American History, The Chronicle Review, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Book Forum and The American Historical Review. He lives in Sommerville, Mass.


Sponsors of the URI event are the Office of the President, Office of the Provost, College of Arts and Sciences, Division of Research and Economic Development, Office of Community, Equity and Diversity, URI Center for the Humanities and URISTAND-ers, a student group that provides education and awareness about sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking.


For more information about the talk, contact Matthew, also a professor of photography, at urihumanities@uri.edu or 401-874-5700. Parking is available behind the URI Visitor’s Center.


After the discussion, Joseph will sign copies of his latest book, Stokely: A Life, which chronicles the life of Stokely Carmichael, the charismatic and controversial black activist.


Click here to read more about Joseph or view: