Veteran Journalist to Give the 2024 MLK Commemoration Address

Let’s take a look at the New York Times author, journalist, and professor who is set to give the next MLK Commemorative address.

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For twenty-two years, she’s been a contributing journalist for the New York Times both domestically and abroad. She’s written pieces discussing race and race relations and reported on the presidential campaigns of 2004 and 2008 and the First Lady. She’s served as the Johannesburg Bureau Chief in South Africa. And on Friday, January 19th, Rachel L. Swarns is set to give the 2024 Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Address at Rochester University. Hosted by the Office of Minority Student Affairs (OMSA) and the Office of the President, the annual commemorative address continues to bring awareness and discussion about diversity, civil rights, and social justice issues.

Portrait of Rachal Swarans

Swarns, a notable journalist, author, and associate professor of journalism at New York University, has studied the issue of slavery and its lasting impacts on the US. She will be among an esteemed list of previous commemorative speakers, which include Symone Sanders, Ibram X. Kendi, Maria Hinojosa, and Martin Luther King III.

About Rachel L. Swarns’ Novel Works

To date, author Rachel L. Swarns has penned three critically acclaimed novels: American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White, and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama takes an intimate look into the family history of First Lady Michelle Obama. Unseen showcases a trove of decades-old images from Black History that have been buried in the New York Times archives.

Her latest novel, The 272: The Families Who Were Enslaved and Sold to Build the American Catholic Church, was named the best book of 2023 by publications like The New Yorker, TIME, and the Washington Post.

A black and white photo of a man standing with two children is set against a pale pink background. There're faded drawings of buildings penciled into the background. The title is above the photo in large, black letters. The author's name is at the bottom in smaller black letters.

Rachel Swarns follows the Mahoney family through two centuries of indentured servitude and enslavement. In this harrowing saga, Swarns uncovers the story of the Catholic Church in the US. In 1838, prominent American Catholic Priests sold 272 enslaved people to complete their mission project, now Georgetown University. Swarns documents how the church relied heavily on slave labor to complete its project and help finance its expansion. The story follows the matriarch of the Mahoney family, Ann Joice, a free Black woman turned slave after her contract as an indentured servant was burned and she was sold into slavery. Passed down for centuries through Joice’s enslaved descendants is the story of a promise broken and stolen freedom; of Harry Mahoney, one of Joice’s descendants, being sold despite saving lives and the church’s money during the war of 1812; and of his daughters being separated until Swarns’ reporting reunites them.

For more on Rachel L. Swarns, click here. For more information on the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Address, click here and here.

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