Over the years, Wagner College speakers and Wagner College stories have helped tell about the history of Black Americans — because Black history is our history.
Enjoy these links to some of those inspiring speeches, panels and stories.
TALKS BY CIVIL RIGHTS LEADERS
Myrlie Evers-Williams — 2013 commencement address
Myrlie Evers-Williams is a civil rights activist and former chairwoman of the NAACP. Her husband, Medgar Evers, was the NAACP’s state field secretary for Mississippi. Together, the Everses organized voter registration drives and civil rights demonstrations. They became high-profile targets for pro-segregationist violence and terrorism. In 1962, their home in Jackson, Mississippi was firebombed in reaction to the boycott of downtown Jackson’s White merchants that Medgar Evers had organized. The violence reached its worst point the following year when Medgar was gunned down by a sniper in front of his home.
Bob Moses — 2014 Black History Month Scholar Symposium
Bob Moses was a prominent figure in the civil rights movement as a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In 1961, Moses initiated SNCC’s Mississippi Voter Registration Project and was appointed its director in 1962. He helped to lead the Council of Federated Organizations into the Mississippi Summer Project — 1964 Freedom Summer — which parachuted the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. Bob Moses died in 2021 at the age of 86. For more about Bob Moses, visit our online Newsroom.
Julian Bond — 2014 commencement address
In 1960, while a student at Atlanta’s Morehouse College, Julian Bond joined the civil rights movement, serving as communications director for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and traveling throughout the South to organize voter registration drives. After the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 opened up opportunities in Georgia’s electoral process, Julian Bond served four terms in the Georgia House of Representatives and six terms in the Georgia Senate. In 1971, Bond helped found the Southern Poverty Law Center, serving as board president from 1971 to 1979. In his 1987 bid for a seat in the U.S. Congress, he lost to civil rights leader John Lewis. He narrated the highly acclaimed PBS series, “Eyes on the Prize,” which recounted the history of the civil rights movement. From 1998 to 2009, Julian Bond served as chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization. He died in 2015 at the age of 75. For the text of Julian Bond's 2014 commencement address, visit our online Newsroom.
STORIES FROM WAGNER MAGAZINE
Lonnie Brandon & the North Hall 27 — In 1970, a group of Black students risked their college careers to help Wagner become a more equitable place for all of us. Here’s what happened. Read Lonnie's story on the Wagner Magazine website. (Fall 2021)
Rita Reynolds: True Heritage — History professor Rita Reynolds’ life’s work documents the lives of wealthy, free Black families in the pre-Civil War South. One of them was her own. Read Rita's story on the Wagner Magazine website. (Fall 2021)
History Makers: Milfred Fierce ’60 M’67 — Milfred Fierce, a basketball star for Wagner College, was a pioneer in developing the field of Black & African Studies in American higher education. Read Milfred's story on the Wagner Magazine website. (Fall 2021)
Playwright Adrienne Kennedy profiled — In 1963, Adrienne Kennedy’s groundbreaking surrealist play, “Funnyhouse of a Negro,” won Wagner College's Stanley Drama Award; the play was published in its entirety the following year in the Wagner Literary Magazine. More than half a century later, alumna and playwright Pia Wilson ’93 wrote about Kennedy’s career and how it had shaped her own. Read Miss Adrienne's story on the Wagner Magazine website. (Summer 2019)
Paul West ’58 was part of jazz history in NYC — Bassist Paul West has played with “jazz royalty,” including Dizzy Gillespie. He backed up singers like Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae, Dinah Washington, Betty Carter and Abbey Lincoln. There were the pianists: Randy Weston, Tommy Flanagan, Kenny Barron and Erroll Garner. And the band leaders: Lester Young, Milt Jackson and Max Roach. Paul West was a music educator, too, serving as executive director of New York City’s Jazzmobile program from 1969 to 1973 and director of the Henry Street Settlement Music School in Manhattan’s Lower East Side until 2000. Read Paul's story on the Wagner Magazine website. (Fall 2017)
Original drama examines impact of Eric Garner’s death — The play was titled “Every Time You See Me,” which prefaced the final words uttered by Eric Garner as he was confronted by police in 2014 for selling loose, untaxed cigarettes on a Staten Island street. The play was created by the Sound of Port Richmond, a community theater program started in 2013 by Wagner College. “Almost as soon as the performance began, I found myself choking back tears,” wrote Wagner Magazine editor Laura Barlament, “an unexpected surge of emotion provoked by the powerful images, sounds, faces, and words I was experiencing in a stuffy room at the Staten Island Ferry Terminal.” Read the story about “Every Time You See Me” on the Wagner Magazine website. (Summer 2015)
#Awareness: Student leaders mentor the next generation — Like many predominantly White colleges, Wagner College has had its share of challenges over White privilege and diversity. Fortunately, Wagner has also had some extraordinary student leaders who have led us in an ongoing conversation about social justice and civic engagement. Wagner Magazine talked with two of them. Read the story about these student leaders on the Wagner Magazine website. (Fall 2014)
Multitalented guitarist Ernie Jackson ’87 featured by the Met Museum — In 2013, Wagner music alumnus Ernie Jackson ’87 was asked by the Metropolitan Museum of Art if he would play something for a video series on an 1860s-era guitar from the Met’s archival collection. Ernie agreed, choosing a piece written in 1883 (the year of Wagner’s founding) in Rochester, New York (Wagner’s hometown). The piece, “Rochester Schottische,” originally written for the piano, had been arranged for the guitar by virtuoso Justin Holland. Read Ernie's story on the Wagner Magazine website. (December 2013)
Kaufman-Repage Lecture: Author Rebecca Skloot on Henrietta Lacks — In 2008, the prestigious Kaufman-Repage Lecture at Wagner College was delivered by Rebecca Skloot, author of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” Lacks was a young Black woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951 in Johns Hopkins Hospital. Doctors took a sample of her cancer cells for research purposes, and these “HeLa” cells became the first to be successfully kept alive in the lab. Still used in scientific research to this day, HeLa cells have contributed to scientific advancements as varied as the polio vaccine, treatments for cancers and viruses, and in-vitro fertilization. Ethical questions surrounding the harvesting of Lacks’s cells, their use without the family’s knowledge, and their employment in medical experimentation have also given rise to patient safeguards such as consent procedures and institutional review boards. Read the story about Rebecca Skloot and Henrietta Lacks on the Wagner Magazine website. (Fall 2011)
Compassionate command: A profile of Sharon Ivey Richie ’71 — Sharon Ivey Richie ’71, Wagner’s first Black homecoming queen, had a stellar career in the Army Nurse Corps. She spent a year as a White House Fellow, served as chief nurse for the Army Recruiting Command, and was promoted to full colonel at age 36, the youngest officer of that rank in the entire Army at the time. After retiring from the Army, she became the director of the School of Nursing at Norwich University, a private military college in Vermont. She died in 2018 at the age of 68. Read Sharon's story on the Wagner Magazine website. (Fall 2009)
SHORTS FROM WAGNER MAGAZINE
Obituary: James E. Powers Jr. ’63 — James E. Powers Jr. ’63 and wife Beverly Ann Phipps ’63 ran the Spiral Gallery in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, during the late 1980s and early 1990s, known for nurturing Black artists and serving art-lovers. Read the story about James Powers on the Wagner Magazine website. (Winter 2020-21)
English prof examines depiction of slavery on the screen — In 2018, Routledge published a book co-edited by Wagner English professor Steven Thomas, “The Cinematic Eighteenth Century.” The book featured Thomas’s own chapter, “Cinematic Slavery and the Romance of ‘Belle’,” examining the way our culture represents the troubling history of slavery on the screen. Read the story about Steve's work on the Wagner Magazine website. (Summer 2018)
Lending a literary voice to the haunts of history — Wagner College English professor Erica L. Johnson’s latest book, “Caribbean Ghostwriting,” examined the work of Wagner alumna Michelle Cliff ’69 and others who “write novels about Afro-Caribbean and African American women whose lives find fleeting and inconsistent mention in the archives.” Read the story about Erica's work on the Wagner Magazine website. (Summer 2010)
BLACK HISTORY MONTH SCHOLARS’ LECTURES
Steve Perry, Nadia Lopez — 2018 Black Scholars Panel
Wagner College Provost Lily McNair moderated the 2018 Black Scholars Panel discussion with Steve Perry and Wagner College alumna and honoree Nadia Lopez ’98 H’16. Perry and Lopez are educators who have dedicated their professional lives to serving the most underserved of communities, and they both have very powerful ideas about how to better teach and prepare black and brown children for leadership in our country.
Erica Armstrong Dunbar — 2019 Black History Month Scholar’s Panel
Rita Reynolds, who chairs Wagner College’s History Department, introduced Erica Armstrong Dunbar, the Charles & Mary Beard Professor of History at Rutgers University, who delivered the college’s 2019 Black History Month Scholar’s Lecture. Dunbar spoke about her book, “Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge.” The book was a 2017 National Book Award Finalist for Nonfiction, and it won the 2018 Frederick Douglass Book Award.
Gina Poe — 2021 Black History Month Scholar’s Lecture
Gina Poe, a UCLA neuroscientist specializing in the study of sleep and its effect on memory and learning, gave Wagner College’s 2021 Black History Month Scholar’s Lecture. The title of her lecture was, “The Essential Work of Sleep: What, Why and How Critical Life Functions are Only Served by Sleep.”