There wasn’t much he didn’t cover. Racism, the Bible, misogyny, hip-hop, Fat Albert. Each got a few words from Michael Eric Dyson, the celebrated author, lecturer, radio personality and preacher.
Dyson delivered the sixth annual Mary Frances Early Lecture last month. He spoke on “Remembering Our Past, Securing Our Future: African-American Leadership in the 21st Century,” but gravitated toward the role of black women in shaping America’s past, present and future. The author of Why I Love Black Women expounded on the subject, tracing the roles of women like Early, the first African-American woman to graduate from UGA, through societal revolutions including the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, civil rights and education equality.
“Mary Frances Early broke down barriers for all people, especially students of color, but not only them because without students of color the University of Georgia would not be same as it is today,” he said.
Early’s struggle, parallel to that of Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Hamilton Holmes, the first African-American students admitted to UGA, was a move not to “whiten” themselves or fit into to the traditional, pale societal norm, but to repaint the boundaries to include blacks in their rightful place in a free and democratic country, Dyson argued.
“At a time when most questioned the intellectual abilities of the Negro, Early proved them wrong. She was a pioneer. But, black women have always been pioneers,” he said.
Dyson also had words for young African Americans. He quoted lines from 26-year-old Martin Luther King Jr. and 19-year-old rapper Nas as proof that young people can and should be taken seriously. The music and fashion trends of black youth do not reflect their character or potential, he said.
“I don’t care how low you wear your pants. But I know I can’t do it. I need to run from the police,” he said. “And for such homophobic people, you’re giving somebody a clear shot.”