Pulitzer Winner Taylor Branch '68 to Speak, Open His Papers at UNC

Taylor Branch ’68, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the three-part history America in the King Years, returns to campus April 6 to speak about “Miracles and Myths from the King Years.”

Branch’s visit also will celebrate the opening to the public of materials he used in writing the three books. The materials, now in the Southern Historical Collection in UNC’s Wilson Library, include Branch’s notes, drafts and recorded interviews – the latter preserving the voices and views of civil rights leaders such as Ralph D. Abernathy and Kwame Toure (Stokely Carmichael).

Branch and his writing about the civil rights era and Martin Luther King Jr. are featured in the March/April issue of the Carolina Alumni Review, available online to GAA members.

Branch will speak beginning at 5:45 p.m. in the Harold J. Cobb Sr. Theater of UNC’s Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History. Also, at 5 p.m., he will sign copies of his books, which will be available for sale during the signing and reception in the lobby of the center. Friends of the Library is sponsoring the events, both of free and open to the public.

“The oral histories that Taylor Branch conducted are truly a national treasure,” said Bill Ferris, UNC’s Joel R. Williamson eminent professor of history, senior associate director of the Center for the Study of the American South and adjunct professor in the folklore curriculum. “This collection constitutes a legacy for future generations who will seek to understand the civil rights movement and the courageous people who made it possible.”

The new Taylor Branch Collection will significantly expand and deepen the resources available to students and scholars who study the civil rights movement and the conditions that created it, Ferris said.

Branch won the Pulitzer Prize for History and a National Book Critics Circle Award for Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63, the first of the three books. Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-65 was published in 1998, and At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years 1965-68 was released in January.

The Washington Post called At Canaan’s Edge a “deeply researched book that completes a superior narrative trilogy of America’s civil rights struggles between 1954 and 1968.” Time magazine featured an excerpt as the cover story of its Jan. 9 issue.

The centerpiece of the Branch Collection at UNC will be more than 500 hours of interviews that he recorded with leading figures of the civil rights movement and experts in the field. Harry Belafonte, James Farmer and Sargent Shriver are among those on the tapes.

“There are wonderful nuggets in these interviews that never made it into print,” said Laura Clark Brown, head of public services in Wilson Library’s manuscripts department, of which the Southern Historical Collection is a part.

She expects those elements to inspire books and dissertations in a variety of disciplines, and to give undergraduates a real sense of immediacy when they study the history of the civil rights era.

Tim West ’72 (MAT, ’76 MSW), curator of the manuscripts department and director of the Southern Historical Collection, sees the opening of the Branch Collection as part of a UNC continuum.

Branch, who grew up in segregated Atlanta before coming to UNC, “had his consciousness raised while he was here,” West said. “He received a tremendous informal education at UNC about the political and social issues of the day.”