Past speakers

The Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration has featured speakers who keep alive King's spirit and continue his legacy through their work in civil rights, social justice and equality.

Past speakers for this event include:

2014: Wil Haygood

Acclaimed Washington Post reporter Wil Haygood had an early hunch that Obama would win the 2008 election and when he did he wanted to publish an article about a black person who had worked in the White House as a servant, someone who had come of age when segregation was so widespread, so embedded in the culture as to make the very thought of a black president inconceivable. He struck gold when he tracked down Eugene Allen, a butler who had served no less than eight presidents, from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan - and in so doing became a "discreet stage hand who for three decades helped keep the show running in the most important political theatre of all". The result was The Butler: A Witness to History, a portrait of Eugene Allen's lifelong journey, from his birth in 1919 on a southern plantation to his years in service at the White House; it is also a broader examination of the history of African Americans in film. The book, which quickly became a bestseller, was released in tandem with the motion picture Lee Daniels' The Butler —of which Haygood is associate producer—starring Oprah Winfrey, Forest Whitaker, Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave, and Cuba Gooding Jr.

2013: Lani Guinier

In 1998, Lani Guinier became the first black woman to be appointed to a tenured professorship at Harvard Law School. Before joining the Harvard faculty, she was a tenured professor for 10 years at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. During the 1980s, she headed the voting rights project at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and served in the Civil Rights Division during the Carter administration as a special assistant to then-Assistant Attorney General Drew S. Days. Guinier came into public attention when she was nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1993 to lead the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice only to have her name withdrawn without a confirmation hearing—an experience she turned into a personal and political memoir, Lift Every Voice.

2012: Michael Eric Dyson

A best-selling author, scholar and cultural commentator, Michael Eric Dyson is University Professor of Sociology at Georgetown University. He is a two-time NAACP Image Award winner and recipient of the American Book Award. Ebony magazine has named him one of the 150 most powerful African Americans.

2011: Nell Irvin Painter

A celebrated American historian, Nell Painter is the Edwards Professor Emeritus of American History at Princeton University. She is the author of seven books, including the critically acclaimed Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol, and countless articles relating to the history of the American south.

2010: Donna Brazile

Veteran Democratic political strategist Donna Brazile is an adjunct professor, author, syndicated columnist, television political commentator, vice chair of voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee, and former chair of the DNC's Voting Rights Institute.

2009: Keith Beauchamp

Keith Beauchamp was 10 years old when he first developed an interest in the life and death of Emmett Till. He would later create a film about Till's life, death and the subsequent trial. Determined to play a role in righting this historical wrong it took Beauchamp more than 10 years to complete the film The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till.

2008: Ernest Green

Born in Little Rock, Ark., Sept. 22, 1941, Ernest Green earned his high school diploma from Little Rock Central High School. He and eight other black students were the first to integrate Central High following the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which declared segregation illegal.

2007: Joan Southgate

If anyone has "walked the walk" for social justice, it's Case Western Reserve University alumna Joan Southgate (SAS ’54). In 2002 the retired social worker walked 519 miles, following the Underground Railroad from southern Ohio to Lake Erie to honor the arduous and dangerous path to freedom walked by her ancestors.

2006: Fred D. Gray

Fred Gray Sr. (LAW ’54), a Case Western Reserve alumnus and emeritus trustee distinguished himself over the decades as a quiet hero in the civil rights movement. Gray was King's first civil rights lawyer, and his career includes notable civil rights-related cases. He represented Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat to a white man on a segregated city bus in Montgomery, Ala. The action led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and resulted in city buses being integrated in 1956.

2005: The Three Doctors

The Three Doctors formed a nonprofit foundation with a mission to inspire and create opportunities through education, mentoring and health awareness. They speak to youths and audiences around the country about their experiences, and are the authors of the book The Pact: Three Young Men Make a Promise and Fulfill a Dream.

2004: The. Rev. Valentino Lassiter

Author of the book Martin Luther King in the African American Preaching Tradition, Lassiter is assistant professor of religious studies at John Carroll University.

2003: Andre Thornton

Former Cleveland Indians All-Star; nationally known speaker

2002: Joe Rogers

Former Lt. Gov. of Colorado; youngest lieutenant governor in the country and highest ranking African American elected state official (at the time)

2001: The Rev. Otis Moss Jr.

Pastor of Cleveland's Olivet Institutional Baptist Church since 1975; active participant in the civil rights movement; national board member and trustee of the MLK Jr. Center for Non Violent Change

2000: Fr. J-Glenn Murray

Director of the Office for Pastoral Liturgy of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland

1999: John M. Swomley

Social activist and civil rights and liberties teacher; writer; was involved with King in the civil rights activities in Montgomery, Ala.

1998: Fred D. Gray

Civil rights attorney; served as attorney for Dr. King and Rosa Parks; Case Western Reserve alumnus who received his JD in 1954

1997: Stephanie Tubbs Jones

Former Cuyahoga County prosecutor; double alumnae of Case Western Reserve (FSM ’71, LAW ‘74)

1996: Jawanza Kunjufu

Author and educational consultant; has written several books, including Black Economics: Solutions for Community and Economic Empowerment

1995: Nikki Giovanni

Author and poet; nationally-known speaker

1994: Julia Hare

Educational psychologist, motivational specialist and authority on young African American children