The Catawba College Community Forum for February will focus on Black History Month with a pairing of programs that examines the current debate over national priorities. The theme is “Race in America: Where Do We Go From Here?”
Two forum programs will be held on campus Thursday, February 9, as part of a more general conversation that will continue on the following Friday, February 10, in Davidson and Mooresville.
The first program on Feb. 9, at 11 a.m. in Omwake-Dearborn Chapel, will pay honor to one of the pioneers of multi-cultural tolerance in American history. “2017 is the 75th anniversary of the visit of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to Salisbury and Kannapolis to call attention to the promise of equal opportunity for all Americans,” announced Catawba College historian and professor of history, Dr. Gary Freeze, who is a coordinator of the event (See also: AUDIO: Dr. Freeze Discusses Forum).
“This was the most significant trip Mrs. Roosevelt made in the summer of 1942 to promote the promise of the New Deal,” Freeze observed. “She came to Livingstone College to encourage African Americans from across the nation to continue the struggle for inclusion in the American Dream, and she went to Kannapolis to carry the same message that everyone who works deserves fair treatment and the encouragement to advance themselves. At Livingstone and Cannon Mills, she found positive movements in those directions.”
Nina Roosevelt Gibson with her grandmother, First Lady Eleanor Rossevelt. (Photo: Arizona Public Media)
To highlight the observance, Salisbury will be hosting Nina Roosevelt Gibson, Eleanor Roosevelt’s granddaughter, who has worked for decades to keep alive the aspirations her family has had for all Americans. Mrs. Gibson, who lives in Arizona, will be visiting the same places that were part of the 1942 visit and will be the principal speaker at the chapel forum that Thursday morning.
Joining Gibson will be the person responsible for the overall program of the two days. The Rev. Vincent Huntley is a resident of the Davidson area and has worked and lived in Salisbury. Huntley, who now works in Cornelius, has been active in the promotion of funding for area youth education and community action. “His enthusiasm and activism so inspired Mrs. Gibson that she agreed to come to our area to help us remember how her grandmother laid down the groundwork to help us talk to one another” Freeze noted.
“The social issues that have engulfed the nation in the last year or so inspired Vince to have this area of the Piedmont be a pioneer in a national conversation,” said Catawba College philosopher and assistant professor of philosophy, Dr. Seth Holtzman, coordinator for the Community Forum. “We hope that our Forum can be a starting point for further ways of dealing with the conflicts and issues we all must face up to.”
Joining Gibson and Huntley in the chapel will be Shannon Sullivan, a philosophy professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Sullivan will also be the principal speaker for the main Community Forum event, also slated in the Omwake-Dearborn Chapel at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9. “Dr. Sullivan’s recent book, “Good White People: The Problem with Middle Class White Anti-Racism” (2014), has earned national attention and several awards.
“Shannon’s take on race has created a lot of conversation and a bit of controversy,” said Holtzman. “We think this program has the potential to advance our understanding of social trends, both for the college community and the greater Salisbury area. This may become one of the best Forums ever.”
After Sullivan’s talk, Rev. Huntley will provide a contextual response that Holtzman and Freeze hope will generate the types of questions and discussions that have been the hallmark of Community Forums in the past. Mrs. Gibson will also speak and be available for a post-program get-together in the atrium of the Ketner Building on campus.
All three guests will also be honored at a luncheon hosted by the Black Student Union at Catawba, where a small group of students from both Catawba and Livingstone will have an opportunity to talk over the issues.
The public is cordially invited to both the 11 a.m. and 7:30 Forums, and there will be no admission charge. The public can also attend a repeat of the Forum program at 7 p.m. Friday at St. Therese Catholic Church in Mooresville, which is being promoted for residents from the southern Iredell and northern Mecklenburg counties area. At that parish dinner, Gibson, Sullivan, and Huntley will reprise a similar discussion, and Freeze will speak briefly about the Iredell connection to the Roosevelts, when he pays tribute to sculptor Selma Burke, a Mooresville native who carved one of the first bust of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Biographical Info on the Three Principals Speaking at the February Community Forum
Dr. Shannon Sullivan
Dr. Shannon Sullivan is professor of philosophy and health psychology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She also currently serves as chair of the philosophy department.
After earning her doctorate at Vanderbilt University, the Texas native taught at Pennsylvania State University before coming to Charlotte. Her scholarship is focused on feminist, continental, and pragmatic philosophy. She has written four books and co-edited four more.
Her most recent book, "Good White People: The Problem with Middle Class White Anti-Racism," studies what she calls "the problem with middle-class anti-racism." The book has won two national awards and garnered both positive and negative criticism. As Dr. Sullivan explained in interviews, she "had to grapple" with her own regional heritage as a white Southerner as she analyzed the intersection of class and race in contemporary America.
She has been said "to make people pause" during her talks to non-academic audiences in Charlotte. "The more mundane and less visible forms of racism," she told Creative Loafing, a Charlotte newspaper, "can be just as deadly and destructive."
However, she has said she regards these reactions as positive, since she "wants everyone involved for all spectrums of racial attitudes." Dr. Seth Holtzman, the Catawba College philosopher who is coordinator of the Community Forum, thinks her presentation will be both timely and positive. "Her remarks should made all Rowan County residents, regardless of who they are, think more broadly about what is happening around us today."
Nina Roosevelt Gibson
Nina Roosevelt Gibson is one of the many notable grandchildren of Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt. Gibson is a psychologist, and her siblings and cousins include economists, environmental consultants, and religious leaders.
Gibson was very close to her grandmother in her formative years. She was, Gibson has said in interviews, "the best person and the most important person in my life, especially when I was young."
In the immediate postwar period, after the death of President Roosevelt, Mrs. Roosevelt lived in Val-Kill, a cottage complex near the family estate in Hyde Park, on the Hudson River in New York. Gibson lived with her family in an adjacent cottage. She often accompanied her grandmother on fact-finding and goodwill trips, most notably a visit to the Middle East and Africa in the 1950s.
Much of her grandmother's humanitarian spirit has been carried on by Nina R. Gibson. As she learned, "other people" were "the priority" with her grandmother, and she has attempted to continue that legacy. She has been noted for her success, in part, for her "down to earth" manner and her family trait of "speaking from the heart." As the New York Times has noted, Eleanor Roosevelt was remarkable for "explicitly recognizing the promise of her grandchildren, whatever their leanings." Gibson and her husband Nicholas, a neurobiologist, live in Arizona.
Gibson was born in December 1942, just four months after Mrs. Roosevelt made a celebrated trip to Salisbury and Kannapolis to promote equal opportunity and the other goals of the New Deal.
"Nina is most interested in revisiting the same places and discussing the same issues that so interested her remarkable grandmother," observed Dr. Gary Freeze, the Catawba College historian who is helping to coordinate the event. "She is most eager to remind all of us that the problems and contentions of the 1940s remain our problems and contentions today. This comes as naturally to her as it did to her grandmother."
Reverend Vincent Huntley
The Reverend Vincent Huntley is active in community affairs and religious activities in the Greater Charlotte metropolitan area. The Davidson native works today in Cornelius, and has run a business in Salisbury. He devotes much of his available time to causes that foster racial harmony and advance the prospects of young people of all backgrounds. He is the head of CL Projects, which stages fundraisers to advance community causes.
He is a 2012 graduate of D. Ewin Johnson Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas, recently renamed Dallas Bible Institute. He attended Livingstone College in 2013-2014 and subsequently the Grace College of Divinity in Fayetteville, which awarded him an associate's degree in divinity in 2016. He also received his chaplaincy through Visions International Chaplaincy in Euless, Texas. He is currently a member of The Psychiatric Chaplains of America, and is a volunteer chaplain at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte.
"Vince was the initiator of this event," said Freeze. "As a proud member of the A.M.E. Zion Church and a former Livingstone student, he alerted us all to the need to reconsider what was said during Mrs. Roosevelt's symbolic and significant visit. Vince is convinced that Americans today, on all sides of society, from all political persuasions, can sit down and talk in the constructive, educational way that Eleanor Roosevelt did when she came to Salisbury. His hope is that the upcoming set of events will give everyone as much encouragement as she did decades ago."