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January 16, 2004

Noted black scholar to speak for MLK Jr. day

Michael Eric Dyson, a professor of humanities at the University of Pennsylvania, will give the keynote address at the University's Martin Luther King Day Celebration on Monday.

A leading expert in African-American history and politics, Dyson has authored biographies on prominent assassinated African-American community figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and rapper Tupac Shakur.

Dyson's biography of King, entitled I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr., has been critiqued for endorsing some of King's most extreme views and also discouraging the common practice of glossing over some of King's positions.

"Dyson calls King a revolutionary who, years after his oft-quoted ‘I Have a Dream' speech, concluded that many whites were unconscious racists. He believed in some level of racial separation and embraced many aspects of socialism," according to an article on Dyson in The Washington Post.

Dyson has also appeared on many nationally syndicated television and radio shows and is an occasional columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and The Post, which described him as a "superstar professor" and as an "in-demand lecturer, frequent guest on television talk shows, prolific author and self-styled ‘hip-hop scholar.' "

The Post article also described Dyson as a scholar who "plies his craft at the crossroads of public policy, celebrity and academia." He has also been praised by The New Yorker for being part of a core of African-American scholars who represent "the most dynamic force in the American intellectual arena since the 1950s."

Born in Detroit in 1958, he was adopted by a worker in one of Detroit's motor factories. His father's determination inspired Dyson greatly. "He took enormous pride in his work ethic," Dyson said.

Dyson became a father at 18, an ordained minister by 19, a night-school graduate at 20, and a college student at 21. By 25 he was preaching in Tennessee, working the night shift in a factory and trying to finish his studies. He was fired from a white church for wondering out loud why they didn't have black speakers, and from a black church for enlisting women as deacons. The year he turned 28, he graduated magna cum laude from Carson-Newman College and was accepted for graduate work at Princeton. At 35, he began a publishing career that has included 10 books in 10 years.

Also featured at the celebration are Minnesota rap-poet Then-Bao Thuc Phi, the Pilsen Boys and Girls Dance Troupe, the Safer Foundation Choir, and the University's Soul Umoja and Ransom Notes a capella groups.

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