By Lucas Johnson
NASHVILLE, TN (TSU News Service) – It is rare to be able to interact with a living historical figure. But that’s what students and faculty at Tennessee State University experienced on Feb. 3 when the Rev. Al Sharpton, one of the nation’s most renowned civil rights leaders and activists, began as a Distinguished Guest Lecturer for the semester.
Sharpton will be a featured lecturer in the area of political science grounded in social justice. His lectures will be via Zoom each Wednesday through April.
“Not only does the Rev. Al Sharpton, a civil rights icon, know American history and the role African Americans have played to shape that history, he has been an intricate piece of it as well,” said TSU President Glenda Glover. “This will be an amazing opportunity for our students to learn from an individual who comes from the pages of the history books they are reading, and to gain knowledge directly from the source.”
Sharpton, a community leader, politician, and minister, serves as the host of PoliticsNation on MSNBC. With more than 40 years of experience as an advocate, he has held such notable positions as the youth director of New York’s Operation Breadbasket, director of ministers for the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, and founder of his own broad-based progressive civil rights organization, the National Action Network.
His activism allowed him to walk among other civil rights icons, like Jesse Jackson and A. Phillip Randolph. He also brought attention to high profile cases in New York, such as the Howard Beach incident in December 1986 in which three African-American men were assaulted in the Howard Beach neighborhood of Queens by a mob of white men. Later that month, Sharpton led 1,200 demonstrators on a march through the streets of Howard Beach. His role in the case helped propel him to national prominence.
Sophomore Alexus Dockery is a political science major from Memphis, Tennessee. She said it’s only fitting that Sharpton should be at TSU because of the university’s rich history in the fight against racial injustice, such as students’ participation in the Freedom Rides and sit-ins during the civil rights movement. In 2008, the university honored 14 TSU alums who were beaten and arrested during the Freedom Rides with honorary degrees.
“TSU students embody the meaning of call to action, which is demonstrated through our motto, ‘Think. Work. Serve,’” said Dockery. “Rev. Sharpton understands the importance of this, and the importance of HBCUs contributing to society for the advancement of Black people.”
Gelanni Jones is a junior majoring in biology at TSU. However, he said Sharpton, because of his historical significance, should appeal to all students, regardless of their major.
“The statement that he makes by just being himself, is exciting to have at TSU,” said Jones, a Cincinnati, Ohio, resident. “He’s a civil rights icon at an HBCU that I attend.”
Sharpton is no stranger to TSU. He gave the keynote address last year at the university’s spring graduate commencement ceremony, where he was given an honorary degree in recognition of his body of work and societal impact.