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King Commemoration Hosts Pulitzer Prize Winning Author
taylor branch
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Taylor Branch will be keynote speaker at Modesto Junior College for this years Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration on Saturday, Jan. 23. J. Brough Schamp Photo


Taylor Branch, Pulitzer Prize winning author and proponent of nonviolence and civil rights, will present the keynote address for the 22nd Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration on Saturday, Jan. 23 in the Modesto Junior College Performing Arts and Media Center Auditorium, 435 College Ave. in Modesto. Branch will speak on “Freedom and Gridlock: Lessons from Martin Luther King.” Doors open at 6 p.m. and the program begins at 7 p.m. The event is open to the public and admission is free.

The event will also feature the presentation of the 2016 Martin Luther King, Jr. Legacy Award to Maggie Mejia, community activist and president of the Latino Community Roundtable of Stanislaus County, who is being honored for her many years of service to the local community.

Prior to the commemoration, students are invited to meet Taylor Branch and ask questions during an informal student discussion held at 4 p.m. on Jan. 23 at the King Kennedy Memorial Center, 601 S. Martin Luther King Drive in Modesto. The student discussion will be followed by a free public reception for Branch from 5 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. at the King-Kennedy Memorial Center.

Branch is an American author best known for his landmark narrative history of the civil rights era, America in the King Years. The trilogy’s rst book, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1989. Two successive volumes also gained critical and popular success: Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-65, and At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-1968. Decades later, all three books remain in demand.

Branch’s latest book, The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement (2013) presents 18 key episodes across the full span of the era, knitted together from the trilogy, each chapter with new introductions. The result is a compact, 190-page immersion for readers in this transformative period of American history.

Branch’s other works include The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President and the “The Shame of College Sports” (October 2011 The Atlantic), of which sports commentator Frank DeFord said “may well be the most important article ever written about college sports.”

Branch has discussed doctrines of nonviolence with San Quentin prisoners, and with ofcers at the National War College. He has presented seminars on civil rights at Oxford University and in sixth-grade classrooms. His 2008 address at the National Cathedral marked the 40th anniversary of Dr. King’s last Sunday sermon from that pulpit. In 2009, he gave the Theodore H. White Lecture on the Press and Politics at Harvard University.

Branch began his career in 1970 as a journalist for The Washington Monthly, Harper’s and Esquire. He holds honorary doctoral degrees from 10 colleges and universities and was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 1999.

In order to host this free, public event, the organizers depend solely on donations of money or services from co-sponsors and donors. For additional information on sponsorship or the event contact Jim Costello at or 209-402-9191, or Dan Onorato, MJC professor emeritus, at, 209-526-5436.