Williston Alum, First African American Chancellor at MIT to Speak at UNC Wilmington MLK Celebration

Former MIT Chancellor and Wilmington native Phillip Clay will speak at UNCW's annual MLK celebration Jan. 19.

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Thursday, January 05, 2012

Phillip L. Clay, a Wilmington native and the first African American chancellor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will speak at the University of North Carolina Wilmington's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 19 in Kenan Auditorium. He will speak on the origins and significance of the song "Lift Every Voice and Sing."

Clay is a Wilmington native and 1964 graduate of Williston High School. Coincidentally, the first African American student to be admitted to MIT, Robert R. Taylor, was also from Wilmington and attended Williston.

Clay is a nationally recognized authority on United States urban housing policy and community-based organizational development. He has been the principal investigator in several studies examining affordable housing, housing preservation and urban gentrification. In addition, Clay is vice president of the board of The Community Builders, one of the country's largest non-profit producers of affordable housing.

However, Clay plans to address a very different topic for this year's MLK Celebration. Sometimes referred to as the "Black National Anthem," "Lift Every Voice and Sing" was originally written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson and first publicly performed as part of a celebration of President Lincoln's birthday by 500 school children at the segregated Stanton School. Johnson, the school's principal, wrote the words to introduce honored guest Booker T. Washington. The poem was set to music by Johnson's brother John in 1905 and quickly became popular as a way for African Americans to demonstrate their patriotism and hope for the future.

Clay has a long and impressive academic history. After earning the AB degree with Honors from UNC Chapel Hill, he pursued a Ph.D. in city planning from MIT. Upon graduating in 1975, he was appointed assistant professor in the department of urban studies and planning. He became a full professor in 1992, and has served as head of the department of urban studies and planning, associate provost and assistant director of the Joint Center for Urban Studies of MIT and Harvard University. . He was appointed MIT chancellor in July of 2001, announcing his retirement in November 2010.

Under his tenure as chancellor at MIT, more than $500 million was raised to help support future students, the number of applications for undergraduate admission doubled, financial aid evolved to reinforce MIT's values and enrollment and diversity goals, as did graduate housing and  improvements to graduate student life.

UNCW is proud to welcome Clay home to Wilmington on a day that celebrates the legacy of Dr. King. A current resident of Boston, he is a champion for educational opportunity and fair housing access.

The event is free and open to the public but advance tickets are required. Tickets can be picked up at the Kenan Auditorium Box Office beginning Jan. 11. Past noted UNCW MLK speakers include acclaimed civil rights activist Bernice Johnson Reagon, Mae Jamison, the first African-American female in space, and actor Danny Glover.

Media Contacts:

Caroline Cropp, UNCW Communication Specialist, 910.962.7109 or croppc@uncw.edu

Dana Fischetti, UNCW Media Relations Manager, 910.508.3127 or fischettid@uncw.edu