Dominican welcomes back Civil Rights Leader Alexis Herman to campus

By Sara Angel

January 28, 2014

It has been almost 46 years since Martin Luther King’s life was taken by an assassin’s Remington 760 Game master bullet on a Memphis motel balcony, threatening to end the progress and the growth of the Civil Rights Movement.

Jan. 23 marked 51 years since Dr. King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, so to help celebrate MLK Day, Dominican University welcomed guest speaker Alexis Herman, to the Lund Auditorium to give her perspective on the historic Civil Rights Movement.

A leader in the Civil Rights Movement and the first African-American appointed as the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, Herman shared her experience during that time of uncertainty and turmoil as well as how the Sinsinawa Dominican sisters helped shape her education.

Originally from Alabama, Herman attended Most Pure Heart of Mary High School, the only black Catholic high school in Alabama that promoted integration. It was at this school where Herman took her first step as a Civil Rights leader; coming out from under a table to confront a Catholic bishop about her school’s absence in the May Day celebration because of its acceptance of blacks.

Herman later went on to work for both the Carter and Clinton administrations as the Director of the Women’s Bureau and the U.S. Secretary of Labor.

With many Sinsinawa Dominican sisters in attendance, Herman took the time to thank them for their passion for education.

“I am honored and pleased to be here [at Dominican] once again. It does my heart good. I would like to give a special thanks to the Sinsinawa Sisters for their incredible contribution to our world,” Herman said. “And to the students in attendance, I would like to say thank you for taking the time to invest in your own education.”

In the spirit of the MLK week celebration at DU, Herman reflected on the time she spent with Coretta Scott and even Martin Luther King’s father, Martin Luther “Daddy King” Sr.

“When I asked ‘Daddy King’ what he wanted his son to be remembered by, he said ‘as an ‘A’ student of the world.’ He cared about the power of education,” Herman said. “Martin leaves a timeless legacy. He did not live to see social media, did not see television broadcast world events but he had a sense that advanced technology made for a smaller world. This is what happens when we harness the power of young people.”

Much of the audience at the lecture included students, faculty, staff and even alum of Herman’s alma mater.

Senior student Bella Gambrell was particularly moved by Herman’s words.

“I was awed by Alexis Herman’s knack for storytelling,” Gambrell said. “Her comfort and elegance on stage was both compelling and inspiring.”

Vice President of Mission and Ministry Claire Noonan, introduced Herman at the beginning of the lecture but she also had some closing words at the event.

“Joyful anticipation for today gathered in my heart. I hope this experience resonates here at DU. Let’s do work that matters,” Noonan said.