Prominent Speakers

The Black Cultural Center and Multicultural Affairs has organized and partnered with others to bring prominent African American speakers to campus. The presenters span from civil rights and social justice activists, public servants, poets, educators, and historians.

Gwendolyn Brooks, 1917–2000

In April 1994, poet Gwendolyn Brooks spoke and read selections from her work at Tennessee Tech. She won a Pulitzer Prize for her poetry collection Annie Allen in 1950, making her the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize. Her work addressed such topics as Black urban lives, racial identity, racism, colorism, social issues, and gender.

To learn more about Brooks and read a selection of her poems, click here.

Clipping of an article on Gwendolyn Brooks's presentation at Tennessee Tech in 1994. The article was published in The Oracle on April 15, 1994.


Nikki Giovanni signing one of her books for Karen Otuonye in the Black Cultural Center on February 25, 2009. Source: Office of Multicultural Affairs records

Nikki Giovanni, 1943-

On February 25, 2009, activist and poet Nikki Giovanni spoke at Tennessee Tech. Giovanni was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, and grew up in Cinncinnati, Ohio. She attended Fisk University, where she edited a campus literary magazine and resurected the campus chapter of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She graduated from Fisk in 1967. The next year, she published her first two books of poetry: Black Feeling Black Talk and Black Judgement. Giovanni taught at Queens College, Rutgers University, Ohio State University, and Mount Saint Joseph’s College. She is a University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech.

To learn more and Giovanni and read some of her work, click here and here.

Rita Sanders Geier, 1944-

On April 7, 2009, civil rights activist, federal public servant, and attorney Rita Geier delivered the keynote speech, “Diversity and Interculturalism: Getting Ready for the Real World” at the diversity in education conference, “One Great Challenge: Learning Together in the New Millennium,” held at Tennessee Tech.

One Great Challenge: Learning Together in the New Millennium program, 2009. Includes a biographical sketch of Rita S. Geier. Source: Office of Multicultural Affairs records

Geier was born in Memphis and raised in Nashville. She attended Fisk University and the University of Chicago. She worked as an adjunct history instructor at Tennessee Agricultural & Industrial State University (A&I) in the late 1960s while also attending law school at Vanderbilt University. She witnessed the under-funding of A&I and Black Nashvillians' outrage over the University of Tennesssee's plan to expand its Nashville extension campus into a degree-granting institution, which would have continued segregation in Nashville's public higher education.

Geier served as the namesake plaintiff in the Rita Sanders (Geier) v. University of Tennessee legal case, which sought to block the University of Tennessee's expansion and challenge Tennessee's unequal, dual system of public higher education. George E. Barrett filed the case in 1968. Federal District Judge Frank Gray Jr. ordered the state of Tennessee to develop plans for desegregation of public higher education. Variations of the case continued until 2000, as plaintiffs challenged the desegregation plans as inadequate.

To learn more about Geier, see:

Bobby B. Lovett, The Civil Rights Movement in Tennessee: A Narrative History (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2005), p. 349-353.   

"The Named Plaintiff," Vanderbilt Lawyer, Volume 36, no. 1, 2007,

Commission for Blacks, "Rita Geier," University of Tennessee Knoxville, 2020,

Bobby L. Lovett, 1943-

In January 2010, Tennessee civil rights historian Bobby Lovett delivered the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Lecture.

Lovett was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee. He completed a BA at Arkansas A.M. & N State College in 1967, a MA at the University of Arkansas in 1969, and a PhD at the University of Arkansas in 1978. He was a Professor of History at Tennessee State University from 1973 to 2010.

To learn more about Dr. Lovett, see his website here.

Flyer for a lecture by Dr. Bobby Lovett titled "The MLK Connection to the Civil Rights Movement in Tennessee, and How the Civil Rights Movement in Tennessee influenced MLK, 1957-1969" on Monday, January 18, 2010, in Derryberry Auditorium. Source: Office of Multicultural Affairs records


Flyer for Tennessee Human Rights Commission Executive Director Beverly Watt's presentation titled "My Perspective of Human Rights in Tennessee" on Tuesday, March 18, 2014, in Derryberry Auditorium. Source: Office of Multicultural Affairs records

Beverly Watts, 1948-

In March 2014, Executive Director of the Tennessee Human Rights Commission Beverly Watts delivered a presentation titled “My Perspective on Human Rights in Tennessee.” Watts discussed her experiences as a young adult during the Civil Rights movement.

Watts grew up in Hopewell, Tennessee. She attended Tennessee State University and Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Her civil service positions have included Director of the Midwest Region's Civil Rights and Equal Employment Opportunity Program in Chicago from 1978 to 1990, Executive Director of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights from 1992 to 2004, and Executive Director of the Tennessee Human Rights Commission since 2007.

To listen to a 2014 oral history interview with Watts, click here.

To watch a 2013 webinar on Tennessee's Human Rights History and an overview of the Tennessee Human Rights Commission by Watts and Sabrina Hooper, click here.

To learn more about Watts, click here.

Marion Wright Edelman, 1939-

On February 4, 2016, attorney and activist Marion Wright Edelman presented for Black History Month at Tennessee Tech. She spoke on social justice issues for disadvantaged youth, including the cradle to prison pipeline and gun violence.

During the 1960s, Edelman worked on anti-discrimination and segregation legal cases in Mississippi with the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. She worked as legal counsel for the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, D.C. She founded the Children's Defense Fund in 1973.

For a TedTalk by Edelman, click here. To learn more about Edelman, click here and here.

Flyer for President of the Children's Defense Fund Marian Wright Edelman's presentation on February 4, 2016, in Derryberry Hall Auditorium. Source: Office of Multicultural Affairs records


Beverly Watts, interview by Betty Baye, September 11, 2014, Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame Oral History Project, Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries,

Beverly Watts, LinkedIn profile, 2020,

Cindy Shueman, "Women's History Month kicks into gear," The Oracle, 2014 February 28, p. 1., "Lovett, Bobby L. 1943-," 2020,

Bobby Lovett, "Dr. Bobby Lovett," 2020,

"Marian Edelman," The Oracle, 2016 February 9, p. 2.

Nikki Giovanni, "Chronology," 2020,

Poetry Foundation, "Gwendolyn Brooks," 2020,

Poetry Foundation, "Maya Angelou," 2020,

Poetry Foundation, "Nikki Giovanni," 2020,

Tennessee Human Rights Commission, "Executive Director: Beverly Watts," 2020,