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The voice of civil rights

Posted June 5, 2015
Reprinted from InterCom (pdf)
Story by Lindsey Arneburg, senior public relations major
Photo: U.S. Representative James Clyburn, left, and keynote speaker Dr. Peniel Joseph.


“Black Power, Imagination and the Media” was the theme for the third biennial Media & Civil Rights History Symposium held by the School of Journalism and Mass Communications in April. “The theme is intentionally expanding the time frame of civil rights research, ” said Christopher Frear, a journalism doctoral student and the three-day symposium’s co-director. 

This is the only symposium across the country that is devoted to civil rights and the media. Professors, historians, media specialists and other professionals from multiple disciplines come from around the world to participate. It puts the University of South Carolina on the national stage. 

The symposium originated in 2011, coincident with the establishment of the Ronald T. and Gayla D. Farrar Award for Media in Civil Rights History. “The award was meant to encourage historical scholarship in civil rights media,” said Dr. Kathy Forde, then a USC assistant professor of journalism and now department chair at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. But to really create scholarship, Dr. Forde felt the school needed to bring scholars together from across the world to discuss media and civil rights. “The media is always playing an important and interesting role in how we understand these issues and how they are represented,” said Patricia Sullivan, a history professor at the University of South Carolina and three-time Farrar award judge. The symposium highlights the history of the media and of civil rights while exploring the effects of each element on the other. 

At the end of the day the purpose of the symposium is to serve the people of the University of South Carolina. Dr. Kathy Forde

At the opening ceremony, symposium keynote speaker Dr. Peniel Joseph, a professor at Tufts University, and U.S. Congressman James E. Clyburn (D-SC) passionately discussed the history of civil rights while sharing insight into current civil rights struggles across the country, including a racial slur posted on the Internet by a USC student. In his keynote lecture, Dr. Joseph called the Black Power studies a “panoramic field” and highlighted how the media affects our views of the movement. Later, Dr. Joseph raised amens and applause at a public address at Columbia’s historic Zion Baptist Church.

“At the end of the day the Media and Civil Rights History Symposium is to serve the people of the University of South Carolina and expand knowledge in this important area and give something back to the people of this state,” said Dr. Forde. And so it did, with high expectations for its next convening in 2017.