Dr. Russell Wigginton travels through the heart of Memphis, Tennessee, each workday to the historic Lorraine Motel. A welcome stop for Black travelers during the Jim Crow era, the Lorraine was also the site of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. It’s served as the National Civil Rights Museum since 1991.
Wigginton is the museum’s new president, and he will kick off Wofford College’s Black History Month commemoration with a talk, “Journey to Justice: Why the National Civil Rights Museum Matters,” and conversations with Wofford students, faculty and staff about preserving and sharing authentic stories about Black experiences.
Wigginton will speak at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 2 in Wofford’s Leonard Auditorium in Main Building. The event is free and open to the public. It will be livestreamed
“The National Civil Rights Museum just celebrated its 30-year anniversary,” says Wigginton. “I’ll speak a little about how the museum came to be after Dr. King was assassinated.”
Wigginton will introduce the college and Spartanburg communities to the context that led to the civil rights era, some of the artifacts and resources available at the museum and a few of the lesser-known events and heroes of the movement. He’ll also talk about the museum’s future.
“We recognize that people enter our space — and even conversations about the Civil Rights Movement — from different perspectives, experiences and educational backgrounds, so we take a broad approach,” says Wigginton, who will build on that foundation to position the museum toward the center of national conversations on education, arts and culture, and economic empowerment within the Civil Rights Movement.
A former college history professor and administrator at Rhodes College, Wigginton became president on Aug. 1, 2021. He is leading the National Civil Rights Museum toward offering more internship and experiential learning opportunities for college students, an initiative in which Wofford is interested in participating.
“We have a responsibility to provide the context that’s necessary for the next generation of leaders to become more activated,” says Wigginton. “If you don’t have that context, your activism will not be sustainable and may be misguided. … I challenge today’s college students to do their homework and understand what their fellow college students did during the Civil Rights Movement and what it took to be a part of something bigger than themselves.”
The National Civil Rights Museum is a Smithsonian affiliate that chronicles the American Civil Rights Movement and tells the story of the ongoing struggle for human rights. In addition to honoring and preserving the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the museum educates the public and inspires action to create positive social change. During 2019, the National Civil Rights Museum saw more than 325,000 visitors: 75% came from more than two hours away and 10-15% were international. Wigginton became president on Aug. 1, 2021.
Wofford’s theme for Black History Month 2022 is “When Human Possibilities are Freed.” Planned events will share Wigginton’s thematic emphasis on sharing complicated, authentic Black stories and experiences.
Events slated for Wofford’s Black History Month observance include:
Wednesday, Feb. 2
“Journey to Justice: Why the National Civil Rights Museum Matters,” a lecture and question and answer session presented by Dr. Russell Wigginton, president of the National Civil Rights Museum.
7:30 p.m., Leonard Auditorium, Main Building
Wednesday, Feb. 9
“Social Justice in the Christian Tradition,” a talk and discussion facilitated by Dr. Doug Clark, visiting professor of religion, and the Rev. Dr. Ron Robinson, Perkins Prothro Chaplain and Professor of Religion.
6 p.m., Room 112, Rosalind Sallenger Richardson Center for the Arts
Tuesday, Feb. 15
“From Problems to Pimps: Sidney Poitier and the Transformation of Black Images at the Movies, 1950-1972,” a lecture and question and answer session presented by Dr. Dwain Pruitt, Wofford’s chief equity officer.
6 p.m., Room 213, Franklin W. Olin Building
Wednesday, Feb. 16
“The History of Black Studies and Critical Race Theory,” a Zoom lecture and question and answer session presented by Dr. Ricky Jones, professor and chair, Department of Pan-African Studies, University of Louisville, USA Today Network columnist and host of “The Ricky Jones Show”
7 p.m., Zoom registration link.
Thursday, Feb. 17
“Geographies of Pain and Pleasure: Black Women in Segregated New Orleans,” a public lecture presented by Dr. LaKisha Simmons, associate professor of history and women’s studies at the University of Michigan. Sponsored by the Wofford College Department of History and the Lewis P. Jones Visiting Professor of History Fund
4 p.m., Olin Theater, Franklin W. Olin Building
Monday, Feb. 21
“Slavery and Wofford College,” a community conversation about what we currently know about Wofford’s institutional ties to slavery led by Dr. Kenneth Banks, associate professor of history; Luke Meagher, special collections librarian; Dr. Dwain Pruitt, chief equity officer; Dr. Tracy Revels, professor of history; and Dr. Phillip Stone, college archivist.
6 p.m., Olin Theater, Franklin W. Olin Building
The event will be livestreamed through the Wofford College Facebook page.
Monday, Feb. 28
“bell hooks and Black Feminism,” a panel discussion with Dr. Bria Harper, assistant professor of English; Dr. Dresden Lackey, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology; Jessica Scott-Felder, assistant professor of studio art; Dr. LaTasha Smith-Tyus, director of Career Services; and Dr. Nancy Williams, associate professor and chair of philosophy.
6 p.m., Olin Theater, Franklin W. Olin Building