National Humanities Conference heading to Birmingham


Key figures in the Civil Rights Movement will headline an opening plenary session of the 2013 National Humanities Conference at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham with hundreds of delegates from across the country attending the Nov. 7-10 conference.

Hosted by Alabama Humanities Foundation, the conference, Reflection, Reconciliation and Renewal, chose Birmingham on this 50th anniversary of pivotal moments of the Civil Rights Movement because of its key role in that history.

“That’s what this conference is trying to showcase — where are we now, where do we go from here. We want to try to show the lessons learned from the past,” said Guin Robinson, chairman of AHF’s 2013 conference planning committee. “Having the conference here is really a milestone for our Foundation. We hope it also will be a milestone for the national organization.”

“We chose Birmingham as the site for the 2013 National Humanities Conference because it seemed unthinkable, in this very important anniversary year, to be anywhere else,” said Esther Mackintosh, president of the Federation of State Humanities Councils.  “Fifty years ago, events in Birmingham forever changed the course of Civil Rights in the United States.  It is a privilege to be able to gather in this city at this time to reflect on those events and on how we can draw on the humanities to help shape a future of equality and mutual responsibility.”

The events in Birmingham not only contributed to America’s passage of landmark Civil Rights legislation in 1964 and 1965, but helped change the direction of a nation.

For decades, state humanities councils have made it their mission to bring people together, foster conversation and the exchange of ideas to broaden our perspectives.

The conference begins with a Civil Rights Experience Tour on Nov. 7 that AHF organized to give delegates an opportunity to visit key civil rights museums, memorials and centers in Alabama. This tour includes a visit to the National Voting Rights Museum in Historic Selma and Montgomery’s Rosa Parks Museum, Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church and the Civil Rights Memorial by Maya Lin.

On Nov. 8, the opening plenary speakers panel features U.W. Clemon, a former federal judge; Doug Jones, former U.S. Attorney; Diane McWhorter, Pulitzer Prize winning author and Judge Helen Shores Lee, author and attorney. The panel will be moderated by Odessa Woolfolk, nationally recognized educator, civil rights activist and pioneer.

The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was thrust into the center of the Civil Rights Movement on Sept. 15, 1963, when a bomb exploded, killing four little girls and injuring 20 members. This tragic event produced an outpouring of support and forced white leaders to address Birmingham’s acts of racism.

The Closing Plenary on Nov. 9 features Nikki Giovanni, a world-renowned poet, writer, commentator, activist and educator. An award-winning author of more than 30 books for both adults and children, Giovanni was named one of Oprah Wynfrey’s 25 “Living Legends” and has been called the “Princess of Black Poetry.”

Her spoken word recordings have achieved widespread recognition and honors, including her “Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection,” which was one of five finalists for a Grammy award. Giovanni was named Woman of the Year by Mademoiselle, The Ladies Home Journal and Ebony magazines.


About the Panel

 ODESSAOdessa Woolfolk, Moderator

Woolfolk is recognized nationally for her work as an educator, civic activist and civil rights pioneer. Her leadership role in creating and sustaining the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is merely the best known of many contributions to her city and state. She is one of the founders of Leadership Birmingham and has served on the boards of dozens of civic, community, corporate and public policy organizations.

UWCLEMONŸU. W. Clemon, Speaker

Clemon is Alabama’s first African American federal judge; he also served as chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. Long before his notable career on the federal bench, Clemon distinguished himself as a student, civil rights activist, lawyer, state senator, and church leader. He marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during Civil Rights demonstrations. As a lawyer, Clemon handled school desegregation cases throughout North Alabama. He sued Paul “Bear” Bryant in 1969 to desegregate the University of Alabama’s football team. Clemon now practices law in Birmingham at White Arnold & Dowd.

DOUGJONESDoug Jones, Speaker

Jones is a Birmingham native and attorney at Jones & Hawley. As a former U.S. Attorney, he personally led the team of prosecutors and investigators in the reopened case of the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Jones served as lead trial attorney in the successful prosecutions of two former Ku Klux Klansmen for the murder of four little girls killed in the bombings. In recognition of his work in the area of civil rights, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute recently awarded Jones the 15th Anniversary Civil Rights Distinguished Service Award. He regularly provides legal commentary on local and national media programs such as 60 MinutesGood Morning AmericaCNN Headline News and other television and radio programs.

JUDGELEEŸJudge Helen Shores Lee, Speaker

Shores Lee is co-author of The Gentle Giant of Dynamite Hill: The Untold Story of Arthur Shores and His Family’s Fight for Civil Rights. After working in the field of mental health, Judge Lee earned her Juris Doctorate degree and practiced law in Birmingham for 16 years until becoming a Jefferson County judge in 2003. She serves as a trustee for Leadership Birmingham and is on the advisory board of Cumberland School of Law.

DIANEDiane McWhorter, Speaker

McWhorter is an American journalist, commentator and author who has written extensively about race and the history of civil rights. She earned the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction and the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize in 2002 for Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama, the Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution. She is also the author of A Dream of Freedom, a young adult history of the civil rights movement. She is a long-time contributor to The New York Times and has written for the op-ed page of USA Today, Slate and many other publications.


About the Alabama Humanities Foundation

As the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the AHF strives to create and foster opportunities for scholars and the public to interact and explore human values and meanings through the humanities. 

For more information about the conference, visit

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