Just as Georgia State has taken its innovative spirit to address major challenges facing society, including bridging gaps in diversity, equity and inclusion, the Groundbreaker Lecture Series recognizes those who have or who are changing the world. Through the series, the university honors individuals whose bold, brave actions have had a significant, positive impact that fundamentally advanced society for the better.
About Dr. Joseph
Peniel Joseph is the Barbara Jordan Chair in Ethics and Political Values at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. He is also the founding director of the LBJ School’s Center for the Study of Race and Democracy (CSRD). His career focus has been on “Black Power Studies,” which encompasses interdisciplinary fields such as Africana studies, law and society, women’s and ethnic studies, and political science.
A Professor of Public Affairs, Dr. Joseph holds a joint professorship appointment in the LBJ School and the History Department in the College of Liberal Arts at UT-Austin.
Prior to joining the UT faculty, Dr. Joseph was a professor at Tufts University, where he founded the school’s Center for the Study of Race and Democracy to promote engaged research and scholarship focused on the ways issues of race and democracy affect people’s lives.
In addition to being a frequent commentator on issues of race, democracy and civil rights, Dr. Joseph’s most recent book is The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. He also wrote the award-winning books Waiting ‘Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America and Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama.
His book Stokely: A Life has been called the definitive biography of Stokely Carmichael, the man who popularized the phrase “black power.” Included among Joseph’s other book credits is the editing of The Black Power Movement: Rethinking the Civil Rights-Black Power Era and Neighborhood Rebels: Black Power at the Local Level.
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The Groundbreaker Lecture Series was launched by the Office of the Provost at Georgia State University during February 2020 to honor three brave women — Barbara Pace Hunt, Iris Mae Welch and Myra Payne Elliott — who sued in the 1950s for their right to enroll and attend Georgia State’s predecessor institution.
In 1956, the predecessor of Georgia State University denied admission to nine black applicants, including Ms. Hunt, Ms. Welch and Ms. Elliott. The three women coordinated with the NAACP and local activists to file a suit against the state of Georgia and the Board of Regents and won in the groundbreaking decision known as Hunt v. Arnold in 1959. The case became the NAACP’s first federal court victory against segregated education in Georgia. Despite the legal victory, the women were still blocked from enrolling at Georgia State by the legislature and the Board of Regents. Further, the women faced bigotry from high-profile political leaders and personal threats from the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists.
For their courage and persistence in the face of segregation and hatred, Ms. Hunt, Ms. Welch and Ms. Elliott were groundbreakers. Their case helped establish key legal precedents for subsequent litigation against racial discrimination in higher education across the United States. Today, Georgia State confers more bachelor’s degrees to African American students than any other non-profit university in the country.