The Barbara Jordan Lecture Series

The Barbara Jordan Lecture Series

In 2004, the Africana Research Center and the Department of African and African American Studies created the Barbara Jordan Lecture Series to recognize and introduce the Penn State community to the scholarship of an African American civil rights activist. The ARC named the lecture after Barbara Jordan because she was a modern day “giant” in activism, scholarship, and action before her untimely death in 1996.

Upcoming Speaker Spotlight

The ARC welcomes Alexis Pauline Gumbs as the 2023 Barbara Jordan Lecture series speaker.

Alexis Pauline Gumbs is a Queer Black Troublemaker and Black Feminist Love Evangelist and an aspirational cousin to all sentient beings. Her work in this lifetime is to facilitate infinite, unstoppable ancestral love in practice. Her poetic work in response to the needs of her cherished communities have held space for multitudes in mourning and movement. Alexis’s co-edited volume of Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines (PM Press, 2016) has shifted the conversation on mothering, parenting, and queer transformation. Alexis has transformed the scope of intellectual, creative, and oracular writing with her triptych of experimental works published by Duke University Press (Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity in 2016, M Archive: After the End of the World in 2018 and Dub: Finding Ceremony forthcoming in 2020.) Unlike most academic texts, Alexis’s work has inspired artists across form to create dance works, installation work, paintings, processionals, divination practices, operas, quilts and more.
Alexis is the founder of Brilliance Remastered, an online network and series of retreats and online intensives serving community accountable intellectuals and artists in the legacies of Audre Lorde’s profound statement in “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” that the preceding statement is “only threatening to those…who still think of the master’s house as their only source of support.” Through retreats on ancestor accountable intellectual practice, and online courses on topics from anger as a resource to transnational intellectual solidarity Alexis and her Brilliance Remastered collaborators have nurtured a community of thinkers and artists grounded in the resources that normative institutions ignore.
Over the past two years, Alexis served as visiting Winton Chair at University of Minnesota where she collaborated with Black feminist artists in the legacy of Laurie Carlos to create collaborative performances based on her books Spill and M Archive. During that time she served as dramaturg for the award winning world premiere of Sharon Bridgforth’s Dat Black Mermaid Man Lady directed by Ebony Noelle Golden. Alexis is currently at work on multiple manuscripts including: Visionary Daughtering, an interactive anthology following up on Revolutionary Mothering and inspired by the example of Kakuya Shakur; The School of Our Lorde, a collection of her many essays and curricula based on the life and legacy of Audre Lorde; Breathing Guide for Marine Mammals in Training, a series of meditations based on the increasingly relevant lessons of marine mammals in a world with a rising ocean levels; and Go There, a poetic engagement with the archive of Black feminist transnational practice spearheaded by Cheryl Y. Greene and Alexis DeVeaux at Essence Magazine from the 1970-90s

Past Speakers

In August 2019, Kendi’s third book, How to Be an Antiracist, debuted at number two on The New York Times bestseller list and was hailed by The New York Times as “the most courageous book to date on the problem of race in the Western mind.” It has been named to several Best Books of 2019 lists, including in The Washington Post, The New York Times, Time, and NPR. His current book, co-authored with Jason Reynolds, came out in March of 2020. It is titled Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, a young adult version of Stamped from the Beginning.

In 1960, civil rights activists marched for the right to eat at lunch counters and for the right to vote.  Some rights were achieved but others like the right to vote are under attack. Joyce Ladner was a foot soldier in the civil rights movement in her native Mississippi where she was a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She will speak about what it was like to work with other young people to wage a fight against racial segregation in the midst of physical violence. 

Dr. Ladner will describe what it was like to grow up in the pre-civil rights South and the early influences on her and other activists that she calls the “Emmett Till Generation.” She will also share her experiences on going to jail for aweek to failing the voter literacy test three times while in college. She will speak about how the civil rights movement was a springboard to other social movements for women, students, the elderly, and Native people, and Black Lives Matter. 

“Intersectionalilty,” a term coined by speaker Kimberlé Crenshaw, calls attention to the multiple forces that create and sustain power and privilege in American society—and contribute to the discrimination and oppression of minority groups. One-dimensional approaches to social justice advocacy continue to divide key constituencies into distant and sometimes competing interests. Nowhere is this division more clearly visible than in discourses surrounding racial and gender bias in the workplace, where one-dimensional approaches often render the experiences of women of color unintelligible.

A leading authority in the area of civil rights, black feminist legal theory, race, racism, and the law, Crenshaw shares her groundbreaking work on “intersectionality” in this fascinating keynote, explaining how our inability to view oppression in society in terms of interrelated categories instead of separate ones—for example, separating gender from racial inequality, instead of merging the two—results in greater oppression for those who stand at the intersection of these categories—such as black women.

A Rhodes scholar and the youngest person ever to lead the NAACP, Ben Jealous is known for being one of the most effective civil rights leaders of our day. However, it was not always clear that he would follow this path. In this speech, Jealous tells the inside history of more than 50 years of great civil rights battles, both known and unknown. He offers insight both into what our nation’s greatest change agents have in common, and shows how we can all dramatically increase our capacity to make the world a better place.

In the narrative of the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement the crucial role of women continues to be too often obscured. Based on her experiences as a staff worker with the student-led Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the South, the production of the 14-hour Eyes on the Prize series, and as co-editor of the memoirs of 52 SNCC female activists in Hands on the Freedom, Ms. Richardson will highlight powerful stories of the strong local leaders – many of them women and young people—who led and sustained the southern movement of the 1960’s. Like today’s Black Lives Matter activism, women and young people were at the center of that movement.

Michelle Alexander is breaking the silence about racial injustice in the American legal system. In her book, The New Jim Crow, she explores the cultural biases that still exist and how segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration. Currently, there are more African Americans in prison than were enslaved in 1850. She blames the drug war for many of these, as people are then labeled as felons and stuck in an endless cycle of discrimination. How can they improve their lives when they can’t get a job, housing or health benefits? This acclaimed civil rights lawyer explores the myths surrounding our criminal justice system from a racial and ethical standpoint, and offers solutions for combating this epidemic.

Barbara Jordan eloquently expressed her faith in the Constitution at another troubled time in our history during the Watergate hearings. Today the Constitution and our system of government based on laws is under extreme stress again. Everything from conflicts over immigration, voter fraud or suppression, the overall division of power between the federal government and the states proceed in an atmosphere of poisonous partisanship. Whether economic policy is legal or wise when economic problems persist raises other questions. Poverty, increasing economic inequality and racism in a supposedly post-racial society all present their challenges. Under these circumstances how fares the justice agenda in the Obama Era?

In honor of the late Barbara Jordan’s service as chair of the 1994-95 U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, Victor Romero presented his talk entitled, “Decriminalizing Border Crossings” as the 2011 Barbara Jordan Lecture.  Placing recent state and local anti-immigrant laws in the broader context of the federal government’s regulation of our borders, Professor Romero argued that an international border crosser should only be deemed a criminal if the U.S. government can prove that, with requisite criminal intent, she engaged in an act aside from crossing the border that would constitute a crime; no longer should crossing the border be a strict liability criminal offense.  He believes such a change will restore balance to the civil immigration system, conserve scarce enforcement resources in order to target truly criminal behavior, enhance our standing abroad, and help heal our racially-polarized discourse on immigration policy.

Randall Robinson, is an internationally respected foreign policy advocate and author. He established TransAfrica in 1977 and was its president until 2001. The mandate of TransAfrica was to promote enlightened, progressive U.S. policies towards Africa and the Caribbean. While president of that organization, he spearheaded the U. S. campaign to end apartheid in South Africa. His leadership in support of the pro-democracy movement in Haiti – which included a 27-day hunger strike – also caused the United States Government to lead the 1994 multinational effort to return to power Haiti’s first democratically elected – but violently overthrown – government.

Mr. Robinson was actively involved in efforts to expose the brutality of the Mengistu regime in Ethiopia, the corruption in Nigeria during that country’s era of military dictatorships, and fought passionately to thwart US attempts to end the Caribbean’s access to the European banana market by the mid-90’s.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, and Director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, Harvard University. Professor Gates is co-editor with K. Anthony Appiah of Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience (1999). He is the author of Wonders of the African World (1999), the book companion to the six-hour BBC/PBS television series of the same name.

Professor Gates is the author of several works of literary criticism, including Figures in Black: Words, Signs and the “Racial” Self (Oxford University Press, 1987), The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism (Oxford, 1988), 1989 winner of the American Book Award, and Loose Canons: Notes on the Culture Wars (Oxford, 1992). He has also authored Colored People: A Memoir(Knopf, 1994), which traces his childhood experiences in a small West Virginia town in the 1950s and 1960s, The Future of the Race (Knopf, 1996) co-authored with Cornel West, and Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man (Random House, 1997). Professor Gates is most recently the author of Finding Oprah’s Roots, Finding Your Own (Crown, 2007), a meditation on genetics, genealogy, and race that is the companion volume to the PBS documentary Oprah’s Roots. He is currently at work on the second installment of the PBS documentary series African American Lives.

From his student days to his current Chairmanship of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Julian Bond has been an active participant in the movements for civil rights, economic justice.  As an activist who faced jail for his convictions, as a veteran of more than 20 years service in the Georgia General Assembly, as a university professor, and as a writer, he has been on the cutting edge of social change since 1960.

While a student at Morehouse College over forty years ago, he founded the Atlanta student sit-in and anti-segregation organization, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  As SNCC’s Communications Director, Bond was active in protests and registration campaigns throughout the South during one of this nation’s most difficult times.

Elected in 1965 to the Georgia House of Representatives, Bond was prevented from taking his seat by members who objected to his opposition to the Vietnam War.  He was re-elected to his own vacant seat and un-seated again, and re-seated only after a third election and a unanimous decision of the United States Supreme Court.

Bond serves as Chairman of the Premier Auto Group PAG (Volvo, Land Rover,Aston-Martin, Jaguar) Diversity Council and is on the Boards of the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Council for a Livable World, and the advisory board of the Harvard Business School Initiative on Social Enterprise, among many others. 

Bond has served as commentator on America’s Black Forum, the oldest black-owned show in television syndication and his poetry and articles have appeared in numerous publications.  He has narrated numerous documentaries, including the Academy Award-winning A Time for Justice and the prize-winning and critically acclaimed series Eyes On The Prize.  He has been a commentator on The Today Show and was the author of a nationally syndicated newspaper called“Viewpoint”.  He has published A Time to Speak, A Time to Act, a collection of his essays as well as Black Candidates Southern Campaign Experiences.  

Serving since 1998 as Chairman of the Board of the NAACP, the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the United States, Bond continues with his activism, working to educate the public about the history of the Civil Rights movement and the struggles that African American and the poor still endure.

In 2002, he received the prestigious National Freedom Award.  Throughout his influential career, Bond taught at several universities, including American, Drexel, Harvard and the University of Virginia.  The holder of twenty-three honorary degrees, he is a Distinguished Professor at American University in Washington, DC, and serves a Professor in history at the University of Virginia until May 2006.

Angela Davis has been active as a student, teacher, writer, scholar, activist, and organizer for over three decades. Her articles and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, and she is the author of five books, including Women, Race & Class. A moving orator, Davis recounts her place in our nation’s tumultuous history. Her story takes audiences down a path of social injustice and through the battle that raged in America, victimizing all who voiced opposing opinions. It is a story of false accusations, incarceration, and the ultimate vindication of justice.

Angela Davis is known internationally for her ongoing work to combat all forms of oppression in the U.S. and abroad. Over the years she has been active as a student, teacher, writer, scholar, and activist/organizer. Professor Davis’s political activism began when she was a youngster in Birmingham, Alabama, and continued through her high school years in New York. But it was not until 1969 that she came to national attention after being removed from her teaching position in the Philosophy Department at UCLA as a result of her social activism and her membership in the Communist Party, USA. In 1970, she was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List on false charges, and was the subject of an intense police search that drove her underground, and that culminated in one of the most famous trials in recent U.S. history. During her 16-month incarceration, a massive international “Free Angela Davis” campaign was organized, leading to her acquittal in 1972.

Professor Davis’ long-standing commitment to prisoners’ rights dates back to her involvement in the campaign to free the Soledad Brothers, which led to her own arrest and imprisonment. Today, she remains an advocate of prison abolition and has developed a powerful critique of racism in the criminal justice system. She is a member of the Advisory Board of the Prison Activist Resource Center, and currently is working on a comparative study of women’s imprisonment in the U.S., the Netherlands, and Cuba.

During the last 25 years, Professor Davis has lectured in all 50 United States, as well as in Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and the former Soviet Union. Her articles and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, and she is the author of five books, including Angela Davis: An Autobiography (1974); Women, Race & Class (1981); Women, Culture & Politics (1989); Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday(1998); and The Angela Y. Davis Reader (1998). She is also the editor of If They Come In The Morning: Voices of Resistance (1971).

Former California Governor Ronald Reagan once vowed that Angela Davis would never again teach in the University of California system. Today, she is a tenured professor in the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz. In 1994, she received the distinguished honor of an appointment to the University of California Presidential Chair in African American and Feminist Studies.

In 1998, Lani Guinier became the first black woman to be appointed to a tenured professorship at Harvard Law School. Before joining the faculty at Harvard, she was a tenured professor for ten years at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. During the 1980s she was head of the voting rights project at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and had served in the Civil Rights Division during the Carter Administration as special assistant to then Assistant Attorney General Drew S. Days. Guinier came to public attention when she was nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1993 to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, only to have her name withdrawn without a confirmation hearing. Guinier turned that incident into a powerful personal and political memoir, Lift Every Voice: Turning a Civil Rights Setback into a New Vision of Social Justice. Dean of Yale Law School Anthony Kronman calls Lift Every Voice a “moving personal testimony, a story of dignity and principle and hope, from which every reader can take heart.”

While a member of the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Guinier investigated the experience of women in law school, leading to the publication of a book, Becoming Gentlemen: Women, Law School and Institutional Change. She and her co-authors found that women were not graduating with top honors, although women and men came to the school with virtually identical credentials. The author of many articles and op-ed pieces on democratic theory, political representation, educational equity, and issues of race and gender, Guinier has written The Tyranny of the Majority (Free Press 1994); Who’s Qualified? (Beacon Press 2001) written with Susan Sturm; and The Miner’s Canary(Harvard Press 2002), written with Gerald Torres.

 In a recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Guinier argues that colleges should practice “confirmative action,” meaning that all students should be evaluated and educated to confirm the sacred, democratic mission of higher learning.

A graduate of Radcliffe College of Harvard University and Yale Law School, Guinier has received numerous awards, including the 1995 Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award from the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession, the Champion of Democracy Award from the National Women’s Political Caucus, the Rosa Parks Award from the American Association for Affirmative Action, the Harvey Levin Teaching Award, given to her by the 1994 graduating class at the University of Pennsylvania, and the 2002 Sacks-Freund Teaching Award from Harvard Law School. She is the recipient of eight honorary degrees, including from Smith College, Spelman College, Swarthmore College, and University of the District of Columbia.