Perspectives on Civil Rights and Race

King Day
From left, Willie Brown, Ed Yohnka of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, and Vernon Burton chat at the 2015 Martin Luther King Jr. Day Teach-In.

During the Spring of 2015, IWU’s Department of Political Science hosted the “Perspectives on Civil Rights and Race” lecture series. These lectures were made possible through generous grants provided by the Betty Ritchie-Birrer ’47 and Ivan Birrer Endowment Fund, the Dean of Students Affairs, and the Office of Diversity.

The series was organized in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which passed in the summer of 1965 under pressure from the Civil Rights Movement’s March on Selma. The timely series provided context and insight as the nation as a whole confronted the mass protests against the killing of unarmed black suspects by police including Eric Garner in New York City and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

The series addressed themes treated during the spring semester in Professor Kathleen Montgomery’s course PSCI 342 The Politics of Presence and Professor James Simeone’s PSCI 308 Constitutional Law II: Voting, Voice and Virtual Reality. Political science students enjoyed breakfast at the Burr House with each speaker during their campus visits. Black Student Union members attended a dinner with Professor Pinderhughes and sponsoring a reading group on her 2008 Presidential Address to the American Political Science Association.

The first of the four lectures was offered by Vernon Burton, Professor of History, Sociology, and Computer Science at Clemson University. He was tasked with the job of providing historical context for the Voting Rights Act, which he did by drawing on his prize-winning work The Age of Lincoln. His lecture was titled, “From Abraham Lincoln, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Gettysburg Address to the March on Washington.”

Victoria Hattam, Professor of Political Science at the New School for Social Research, spoke on “Racial Categories/Racial Politics.”

Professor Burton also delivered the Keynote Address at the Martin Luther King Jr. Teach-In (January 19) on the topic of Voting Rights and Social Justice. At the Teach-in, Pi Sigma Alpha, the political science honorary society on campus, moderated a debate between the College Republicans and the College Democrats on the merits of voter identification laws.

The series second speaker, Dianne Pinderhughes, Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame, addressed the topic of voting rights directly, speaking on “The Voting Rights Act and the Problem of Race in American Politics.” She addressed the obstacles to suffrage faced and eventually overcome by racial and ethnic groups in the United States. After her talk, Professor Pinderhughes graciously agreed to preside over the induction of Pi Sigma Alpha nominees for the class of 2015.

The third lecture was offered by Victoria Hattam, Professor of Political Science at the New School for Social Research, on “Racial Categories/Racial Politics.” Professor Hattam argued that the US Census Bureau’s racial and ethnic group designations have played a key role in structuring conceptions of race and ethnicity in American politics.

The final lecture was offered by James Glaser, Professor of Political Science at Tufts University, on “White Attitudes toward Racial Preferences in College Admissions: Studies in Persuasion." Professor Glaser, an expert on public opinion research, argued that how affirmative action policies are framed shapes the majority white attitudes toward them.