The little coastal town of Cannon Beach, Ore., has scored a giant win. Pulitzer prize winning civil rights historian Taylor Branch will headline the annual Cannon Beach Arts Symposium, which this year will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides of 1961. Appearing with Branch, for the first time, will be University of Washington Professor Quintard Taylor, author of "Civil Rights in the Northwest," and Joseph Stevenson, one of the original freedom riders.
"Taylor Branch wrote the definitive history of the civil rights movement during the Dr. Martin Luther King years," says Prudence Farrell, president of Cannon Beach Arts. "His books are so personal they really make it come alive. That's why teachers choose to use his books for texts."
Cannon Beach Arts created the event, with funding from the city, as a three-day celebration running from Friday Jan. 28 through Sunday Jan. 30. Branch will speak on 'Myths and Miracles of America in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Years.' Taylor, who founded the Black History website Blackpast.org will speak on 'Civil Rights in the Northwest'.
The event has space for 150 people and to make it easier for Portland's urban community to attend, the group has organized a free bus between Portland and the beach. Cost for the three days is $120, which covers all the events, two breakfasts, a chile and chowder feed, two champagne and dessert receptions, a screening of the new Sundance-nominated documentary by Stanley Nelson, Freedom Riders, concerts by Marilyn Keller and the Ron Steen trio, and the bus trip. But attendees must get their own lunches, dinners and hotel rooms; discounted stays are listed on the group's website.
Branch won a Pulitzer for the first book in his trilogy America in the King Years. That was in 1989 and the book was 'Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63'. The Atlanta-born journalist turned author went on to write two popular sequels. Later he became famous for his eight-year project to chronicle a presidency while it was happening: The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President. Branch has been awarded seven honorary doctorates, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a MaCarthur 'genius' grant, the National Humanities Medal and too many other awards to list. Not surprisingly he is in demand as a speaker. He has given talks about nonviolence to prisoners in San Quentin and at the National War College; at Oxford University and in elementary school classrooms.
"And then we have the amazing Dr Taylor, one of the best scholars on civil rights in the Northwest," Farrell says. "He and Taylor Branch are both supposed to be riveting speakers so I can't wait to hear them speak."
Farrell says her group is overjoyed that both authors agreed to speak at the symposium honoring the Freedom Riders of 1961.
The Freedom Riders were a group of more than 400 civil rights activists, both Black and White, who were committed to the ideals of nonviolence championed by Martin Luther King Jr. Dedicated to ending segregation, they endured beatings and imprisonment as they traveled together throughout America's segregated south. Breaking the Jim Crow laws that prevented Blacks from eating in "Whites-only restaurants and going into many other places, the riders met with racism and violence that tested their beliefs in nonviolent protest. Stevenson and other former freedom riders will share their stories.