News Release: Arts and Humanities, Events, Teaching, University News

Mar. 23,  2009

James Weldon Johnson Institute Celebrates Launch

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The spirit of author, composer, educator and civil rights pioneer James Weldon Johnson will infuse every aspect of the official March 25 launch of his namesake, Emory University's James Weldon Johnson Institute for Advanced Interdisciplinary Studies.

Highlights of the event include the reading of a specially commissioned commemorative poem by Emory Pulitzer-prize winning poet Natasha Trethewey, a performance of some of Johnson’s musical arrangements and statements of support from author Alice Walker and others.

“This is our formal introduction to the Emory community and to the community beyond Emory,” says Calinda Lee, the Johnson Institute's assistant director for research and development.

The event will take place on Wednesday, March 25 at 4 p.m. in Cannon Chapel on the Emory Campus followed by a reception in Brooks Common. The event is free and open to the public.

Civil rights focus of study

Established at Emory in 2007 to foster new scholarship, teaching and public dialogue focused on the legacy of the modern civil rights movement, the Johnson Institute has spent its first year staking its infrastructure, hiring staff and welcoming its first cohort of visiting scholars.

The launch provides an opportunity to introduce to the community the public programming and sponsored research the institute offers as a framework for understanding the history and legacy of civil rights.

“Our work is to provide a context to explain the ways in which the civil rights movement continues to have relevance,” says Rudolph P. Byrd, Goodrich C. White Professor of American Studies and the Johnson Institute’s founding director. As a recent example, Byrd notes the inauguration of the nation’s first African American president as a key outcome of the modern civil rights movement.

The first four resident scholars, who are already at work teaching and researching the origins, evolution, impact and legacy of the modern civil rights movement and its impact on other social movements, will be introduced as well.

Visit the James Weldon Johnson Institute to learn more.

Event Highlights

• Pulitzer Prize-winner and Phillis Wheatley Distinguished Chair in Poetry Natasha Trethewey will read for the first time a poem commissioned especially for the occasion.  Her tribute to Johnson will be sold as a broadside, likely available by fall. Each guest attending the launch will receive a copy of Byrd’s “The Essential Writings of James Weldon Johnson,” courtesy of the event’s corporate sponsor, Georgia-Pacific Foundation.

• Provost Earl Lewis will introduce leaders in the academy, the arts, commerce and civil rights who will deliver solidarity statements on behalf of the many communities the institute connects. The launch commemorates the centenary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, through which Johnson led many significant achievements. As home of the Alice Walker Literary Society, the prize-winning novelist and activist also is sending her support.

• The talent of Emory alumni will be showcased throughout the program, like guest soloist Delesslyn Kennebrew. The Candler School of Theology alum will perform music written by Johnson and his brother and fellow composer J. Rosamond Johnson. Other musical guests include Emory’s Vega String Quartet and Atlanta composer Alvin Singleton.

• Friends and partners who share the institute’s commitment to scholarship and social advocacy also will be noted and thanked: the Department of African American Studies, Emory College, the Graduate School and the Office of the Provost; its steering committee and corporate sponsors; and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which supports the visiting scholars program. The Johnson Institute is a key component of Emory’s Race and Difference strategic initiative.


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