MSU lecture series named for 'iconic' Michigan doc returns for Black History Month

Jakkar Aimery
The Detroit News

Detroit — Since it began in February 2001, MSU's Black History lecture series has featured some of the biggest civil rights and faith leaders.

Speakers have included the Rev. Joseph Lowery, co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Rev. Charles G. Adams, pastor emeritus for Detroit’s historic Hartford Memorial Baptist Church.

Two decades later, the gathering, which returned this week, continues to usher in prominent voices for lectures that tap scholarship and multicultural ideas.

Michigan State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine on Thursday launched its 23rd annual Dr. William G. Anderson Lecture Series "Slavery to Freedom: An American Odyssey" with lecturers and others from across the nation, including Angela Davis, the prominent political activist, academic and author.

American political activist Angela Davis speaks during an open air rally in front of the University of the Republic in Montevideo, Uruguay, Saturday, March 23, 2019.

The three-part series will next be offered on Feb. 9 at the Pasant Theatre at the Wharton Center for Performing Arts on the East Lansing campus, and Feb. 23 at the Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center Auditorium on MSU's campus.

"Although this is a hallmark celebration of Black history, it is also the gift that this college gives to our community," Marita Gilbert, associate dean for the college's diversity and campus inclusion, and leader of the series programming, told The Detroit News. "We want both the scholarship and practical knowledge to be accessible to anyone in our community."

Gilbert began attending the annual series in February 2006, about six months after she began classes in her doctoral program at MSU for kinesiology, as well as a specialization in Black feminism.

The lecture series, "Slavery to Freedom," was spearheaded by Anderson, one of the college's first faculty members when it began admitting students in 1969, according to MSU, five years after the school obtained a charter to establish the college in Pontiac.

Born in 1927 in Americus, Georgia, Anderson was the first Black certified surgeon to lead as president of the American Osteopathic Association Board of Trustees in 1994, according to an article published on MSU's website.

Dr. William G. Anderson

Gilbert called Anderson an icon in civil rights advocacy and activism for his involvement and accomplishments.

After serving in the Navy in World War II, he graduated from what is now Alabama State University in 1949. Denied admission to numerous medical schools, he served as a hospital corpsman during World War II, learned mortuary science but later enrolled at Des Moines Still College of Osteopathy and Surgery, or what is now Des Moines University, according to an article on the university's website. He graduated in 1956 and had a residency at the Flint Osteopathic Hospital.

A contemporary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Anderson in 1961 became the leader of the Albany movement during the civil rights era in Albany, Georgia, joining the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee after facing discrimination and denied hospital privileges throughout the country, he told The Detroit News on Thursday.

Dr. William G Anderson (center) welcomes the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (left) and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy (right) to his home in Albany.

"The students took the lead with demonstrations after being harassed, intimated, denied the right to vote ... and then they selected me to be their leader," Anderson said.

In the early 1960s, unable to get privileges at hospitals in the south, he and his family returned to Michigan. He became the house physician at the Art Centre Hospital in Detroit, according to an article on Des Moines University's website. He pursued a 25-year career in surgery in Detroit and a medical group practice he maintained until 1984, MSU said on its website.

In 2015, the college renamed the program the Dr. William G. Anderson Lecture Series Slavery to Freedom: An American Odyssey in his honor.

Anderson said it was rewarding to know that the lecture series continues to thrive. He said the series serves as a moment to pause and recognize how Black Americans have acquired opportunities despite the challenges they've faced.

Along with Davis, distinguished professor emerita at University of California Santa Cruz, this year's speakers are author and Harvard University student Marley Dias, 18, who was recognized by TIME in 2018 as one of the 25 most influential teens; and educator Freeman A. Hrabowski, president emeritus of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, one of the highest degree-granting institutions for Black students in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine), according to Gilbert.

For the first time, the series also features artwork by Detroit-based artist Darnell Kendricks, who used paint and fabric to create "This Joy That I Have," a mixed-media piece that reflects Black histories and Black futures.

Leaders portrayed in the artwork include professors and activists Cornel West and Tamura Lomax, along with Anderson, Davis, Gilbert, Hrabowski, and Dias, seated near a mound of books.

"This Joy That I Have," a mixed-media piece that reflects Black histories and Black futures.

"Being an artist gives you an opportunity to say things you could not necessarily say otherwise," Kendricks said in a statement released on the college's Twitter account. "I see my art as storytelling. I started using cloth and let the canvas guide me."

"Art — whether singing and music, whether its been through dance, or visual art, like Darnell Kendricks, whether its through the spoken word or literature — has always been part and parcel of Black history and Black culture," Gilbert told The News. "This year, I wanted to intentionally connect that to the series."

The series also will feature a community event in collaboration with Socialight Society in Lansing, where 1,000 children’s books will be distributed featuring Black girls as the lead character.

"I'm not called to do what (Anderson) did, but I am called to carry the baton into the next phase," Gilbert said. "But also, carving out spaces for all the rest of the youth so that they show up and feel like there's a place for them, so they can determine which lane they will be in when the baton is passed to them."

Keynote addresses are free to the public and scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. Registration is required. Information on the event can be found here.

Twitter: @wordsbyjakkar