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MEDIA CONTACT:   Polly Burks

Civil Rights Activist Mary Frances Berry to be Keynote Speaker at FAU’s Larkin Symposium on Civil Rights and the Presidency

      BOCA RATON, FL (December 10, 2008) Civil rights activist Mary Frances Berry will be a keynote speaker at Florida Atlantic University’s third annual Alan B. Larkin Symposium on the American Presidency “Civil Rights and the Presidency: From Nixon to Obama.” Berry will present the first lecture in the two-day symposium which will address the history of civil rights in the years following the death of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.   Speakers will put the 2008 election in historical context to ask questions about how American views about race have changed since the civil rights movement.

      Berry will present “Winning While Losing?: The Conservative Movement and Civil Rights during the Reagan Years” on Thursday, February 12 at 4 p.m. in the University Theatre on the Boca Raton campus, 777 Glades Road.  Lectures will continue throughout the day on Friday, February 13 from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.

      Berry served on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights for Presidents Jimmy Carter through George W. Bush. In the 1980s, after President Reagan fired her for criticizing his civil rights policies, she sued him and won reinstatement in federal district court. Berry later became chairman of the commission and served in that position until 2004. She is currently the Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought and Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania.

      “Coming just weeks after the inauguration of the nation’s first African-American president, this symposium will provide a very timely look at the meaning and significance of recent events in American political history,” said Dr. Kenneth Osgood, a historian at FAU and the director of the Larkin Symposium.   “Until now, historians have defined the four decades since the election of Richard Nixon in 1968 as the conservative era in American politics, a period where civil rights issues sat on the back burner.   But with the election of Barack Obama, we may have to start rewriting that history.   The world class writers and scholars speaking at this symposium will provide a glimpse at how the momentous events of 2008 are causing us to rethink the past.”  

      The second keynote speaker for the symposium, Ronald Walters, who is a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland, will present “Barack Obama: ‘Turning the Page’ on the Conservative Era in American Politics” on Friday, February 13 at 1 p.m. A regular commentator for the news media throughout the 2008 election, Walters is one of the foremost experts on race and American politics.   He worked for both of Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaigns and is the current director of the African American Leadership Institute and Scholar Practitioner Program.

      Other speakers will address such issues as Sunbelt politics, the law and courts, affirmative action, political campaigns, and the international dimensions of civil rights concerns.   Since Ronald Reagan exerted a profound impact on recent American politics, many of the speakers will explore the impact and legacy of his presidency on issues relating to civil rights.  

       The symposium is part of a generous endowment to the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters history department by the family of Alan B. Larkin. Additional support for the symposium comes from the Palm Beach County Tourist Development Council and the Palm Beach County Cultural Council.   For more information on the two-day symposium and a full list of speakers, visit or call FAU’s history department at 561-297-2816.   All lectures and presentations are free and open to the public. No tickets are required.

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