Civil rights historian Taylor Branch giving Presidential Lecture

April 13, 2015 - 6:00am

Taylor Branch, one of America’s leading historians and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author on the civil rights movement, will discuss his work on a seminal book series chronicling the rise of Martin Luther King Jr. during an upcoming appearance on the UO campus.

Branch will deliver a UO Presidential Lecture on Thursday, April 16, at 7 p.m. in 156 Straub Hall. The event, which is free and open to the public, is part of the Lorwin Lecture Series on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

Branch’s lecture, titled “Myth and Miracles from the King Years,” will be heavily influenced by his experience authoring the groundbreaking and widely-respected three-book series, “America in the King Years,” which details the struggle of African-Americans for basic civil rights and King’s historic ascendance.

“His lecture will draw from his trilogy in a way that has enormous relevance for contemporary debates over race, violence and democracy in America,” said Daniel Tichenor, Philip H. Knight professor of social science and senior faculty fellow at the Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics. “He powerfully conveys the meaning of these critical moments of struggle for us today.”

In addition to his work on civil rights, Branch published another volume in 2009 that details a long and storied friendship with Bill Clinton — not only a former president, but Branch’s former roommate. He lived with Bill and Hillary Clinton while they all worked on the campaign for Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern in 1972. 

Titled “The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President,” the book includes secret recordings, made by Branch, of his conversations with the president while he was in office, a project initiated by Clinton to shed light on his private thoughts and experiences during his two terms as commander-in-chief.

Throughout his extensive career in writing, Branch has written about a wide variety of controversial and important topics for publications such as The Washington Monthly, Harper’s, Esquire and The Atlantic. Aside from writing, he is also a renowned orator.

“Branch is an incredibly thoughtful and engaging public speaker,” Tichenor said. “It’s an extraordinary opportunity to have a historian of (his) stature speak on campus.”

This Presidential Lecture is sponsored by the Office of the President, Robert D. Clark Honors College, Department of History, Division of Equity and Inclusion, School of Journalism and Communications, Hearst Foundation Visiting Professionals Endowment Fund, Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics, Val R and Madge G. Lorwin Lectureship, Oregon Humanities Center's Endowment for Public Outreach in the Arts, Sciences, and Humanities, Charles Savage Endowment.

— By Nathaniel Brown, Public Affairs Communications