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Martin Luther King Archives - Community | Union Institute & University

Our Last Surviving Founder Leaves Legacy of Innovation

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Dr. James Payson Dixon III, last surviving member of the original Board of Trustees of the precursor of Union Institute & University, and the fourth chairman of the Union Board of Trustees passed away at the age of 98 in February 2016.

Dr. James Payson Dixon III

Last Surviving Founder Leaves Legacy

Dr. James Payson Dixon III, last surviving member of the original Board of Trustees of the precursor of Union Institute & University, and the fourth chairman of the Union Board of Trustees passed away at the age of 98 in February 2016. 

Dr. George Pruitt, Union alumni, President of Thomas Edison State College, and Chairman of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, lauds his contribution to Union. “Jim Dixon was not just one of Unions founders; he was a principal, organizing influence. His impact on higher education should be remembered and celebrated. “

Roger Allbee, Union Institute & University Board of Trustees Chair, praises his contribution to Union. “Dr. Dixon was a real visionary and leader with a distinguished career.”

The impact Dr. Dixon had on Union is summarized below, in Union’s Last Surviving Founder, by Dr. Benjamin R. Justesen, alumni, Ph.D. 2009. You may also read more about Dr. Dixon and his remarkable career in this New York Times obituary

Union’s Last Surviving Founder

“Dr. James Payson Dixon III, last surviving member of the original board of trustees of the precursor of Union Institute & University, and the fourth chairman of the Union board of trustees, has died, according to the New York Times. The highly-regarded educator, a former president of Antioch College, died February 27 in Haverford, Pennsylvania; he would have turned 99 on March 15.

A native of Lebanon, Maine, Dixon was one of 10 founding members of the first board of trustees of the Union for Research and Experimentation in Higher Education (UREHE), formed in 1964. He served on the board for the next 14 years, under the leadership of Union presidents Samuel Baskin and King V. Cheek, Jr.

During his tenure, the UREHE was renamed the Union for Experimenting Colleges and Universities (UECU) and established both the Union Graduate School and the undergraduate University Without Walls. Its membership grew to include more than 30 schools. Dixon left Antioch in 1975, but remained on the board until 1978; in his last year on the board; he was elected as its chairman.

Dr. Dixon then moved from Ohio to North Carolina, where he served as a longtime professor of health administration at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was also interim president of Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Virginia, and a faculty member of Walden University.

The Harvard-trained physician, a graduate of Antioch College, was an Antioch trustee before becoming its president in 1959. His years as Antioch’s leader are movingly recounted in a biography published by his wife, Edla (“Eddie”) Dixon, in 1991: Antioch: The Dixon Era, 1959-1975: Perspectives of James P. Dixon. The Dixons, who met as students at Antioch and were married in 1941, had six children and 11 grandchildren. Mrs. Dixon, an elementary schoolteacher and real estate agent, died in 1995. 

Dixon was the last surviving member of the founding board of UREHE. Only two other members lived into the 21st century: Jerome Sachs, who died in 2012, and Paul Ward, who died in 2005. Royce T. Pitkin (1965-1969) and Rev. Reamer Kline (1969-1974) were the board’s first two chairmen; Dixon became the board’s fourth chairman in 1977, succeeding fellow member James Werntz.

According to the Times obituary (March 6, 2016), Dixon “was one of the first students at Harvard Medical School on academic scholarship and received his medical degree in 1943. A life-long pacifist, Jim registered as a conscientious objector during WWII. He completed his alternative military service with the National Institutes of Health.”

As a lifelong champion of civil rights, Dixon was proud to bring Martin Luther King, Jr. to Antioch as the 1965 college commencement speaker. He was also an active member of the American Civil Liberties Union.

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History in Online Education

Ph.D. student receives second Fulbright Award

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History hidden in plain view. Ph.D. student receives second Fulbright Award to restore the effects of African diaspora in Suriname.

Paula Royster

Current Student | Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Studies

Paula Royster is the founder of The Center of African American Genealogical Research, Inc. (CAAGRI), a non-profit, volunteer based organization with the mission to reunite as many African descended Americans with their distant African relatives as possible. She holds a Master of Arts in History and Culture from Union Institute & University and is a current Ph.D. student in Union’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Studies Specialization degree program. She is the recipient of two Fulbright Scholar Program awards. The prestigious program of the United States Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs is an educational and cultural exchange program that connects people and encourages them to learn about each other’s cultures and values.

What’s in a name? Just ask the millions of people of African descent whose ancestors were captured and transported into the slave trade. “Slaves identity, culture, traditions, and customs were stolen. They were unimportant,” said Paula Royster, Union Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Studies Specialization Ph.D. student, recipient of her second Fulbright Award and founder of the Center for African American Genealogical Research, Inc. (CAAGRI). “Imagine not knowing who your ancestors are? How can we answer the question who we are and where we are going if we don’t know where we have been?”

Royster will try to help answer these questions for the people of the Republic of Suriname, located in the northeastern Atlantic coast of South America, when she travels to Anton de Kom University to teach an African Diaspora Studies class, a Research Methods class and tackle a public history project to capture the oral histories of Suriname’s eldest community members. She wrote the syllabus while enrolled in the master’s program at Union. 

“Suriname was colonized by the Dutch. Most people of African descent captured and transported into the slave trade, like all other South American and Caribbean nations, are disconnected from their ancestral origins: my task will be to try and help them identify the various origins,” said Royster. “Suriname expressed a desire for someone to help them with this project to rediscover history hidden in plain view. I will also work with faculty and staff on developing a sustainable curriculum on African Studies after my term is over because the teachers do not have the educational backgrounds to teach these courses nor do they have the resources (books) or research methods to adequately teach the course over the long-term. So I will be in the classroom 50 percent of the time and researching the other 50 percent.”

The term African diaspora has been historically applied to the descendants of the West and Central Africans who were enslaved and shipped to the Americas in the Atlantic slave trade. It is estimated that about 12.5 million Africans were shipped to North America, the Caribbean and South America between 1525 and 1866. (Henry Gates Jr. Many Rivers to Cross)

Royster and her students will record memories of the eldest people first and then others as time permits. She anticipates conducting over 150 interviews. Her passion for genealogy research started innocently enough when she tried to locate her grandmother’s birth certificate.

“I stumbled into genealogy quite by accident. My grandmother was suffering from the early stages of dementia and my mother needed to get a copy of her birth certificate. When the birth record was not found in Texas, I began to ask questions about my grandmother’s birth parents. Answers led to more questions and I have not looked back since,” said Royster. “I discovered that the processes for genealogists researching African American families transcended the obvious physical deprivations of humanity via slavery but also that those deprivations persisted in other parts of our cultural attitudes about whose records were important and whose were not. The invisibility of African Americans in society is what caused me to found CAAGRI.”

That wake-up call resulted in the founding of the CAAGRI in 2004 located in Fredericksburg, Virginia. “I founded the Center with the goal of helping African American novice genealogists begin their genealogy research because the official records for African Americans prior to the Civil War did not include us by name, DOB, parent’s names, etc. We were recorded as property of the slave master,” said Royster. In 2006, the Center included genetic DNA as a research tool and sought a partner in Africa to help with oral histories as well as the collection of DNA. Little did she know that the partnership would have far reaching implications for her first Fulbright Award.

“I reviewed old maps and came across Fort Gross Fredericksburg in Prince's Town, Ghana and proceeded to establish a sister city relationship. We had a delegation from Ghana come to Fredericksburg to sign the official proclamation. As I began to learn more about the history of the Nzima people, they told me about a folk hero named King Gyane Kone (John Connie) who had been in a protracted battle (almost 20 years) with the Danish over control of Fort Gross Fredericksburg,” said Royster. “Kone was eventually captured but negotiated with his captors that he would leave peacefully if they agreed to take his son to Germany to be educated. Kone was then sent to Jamaica where he implemented his cultural harvest celebration called "Kundum" (koon-doom) into Jamaican society now called "Jonkonnu." Kone's son later became known as Anton Wilhelm Amoo, the 18th century African philosopher.”

Royster was able to share the history of the Jamaican folk hero and his contribution to one of Jamaica’s most cherished traditions during her first Fulbright Award assignment. “My first Fulbright was as a Specialist (designed for short-term assignments) to Jamaica to help the University of West Indies at Mona in Kingston develop a curriculum on African Studies as a legitimate interdisciplinary study. As I traveled through the country, I shared the information on Jonkonnu and its connections to Prince’s Town,” said Royster.

Royster is proud of the light she has been able to shed on the origins of people of African descent and their contributions to human civilizations. Her second Fulbright will provide the opportunity to teach in her area of interest at the university level, which is a short term goal of Royster’s. “Teaching others about their history requires a new writing of history that I hope will inspire a new sense of purpose within the Diasporic community. I believe that family history is important and provides context of not only where you come from but where you are going.” If you would like to know how other MLK students are working for social justice, read “MLK Student Fights To End Sex Trafficking.” 

Learn more about Union’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Studies Specialization program

MLK Student Fights To End Sex Trafficking

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Read how Deborah J. Richardson’s participation in the MLK Ph.D. program influences her resolve to continue to seek justice for children sold into sex slavery.

Deborah J. Richardson

Current Student | Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Studies

Deborah J. Richardson is a Ph.D. student in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Studies Specialization program. She is Executive Vice President of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, an organization committed to connecting the American Civil Rights Movement to today’s Global Human Rights Movements. She recently served as the Interim Chief Executive Officer during the organization’s search for a permanent CEO.  Prior to joining NCCHR in 2011, Deborah had served as Chief Program Officer at Women’s Funding Network in San Francisco, California; CEO of The Atlanta Women’s Foundation; Director of Program Development for Fulton County Juvenile Court; founding Executive Director of the Juvenile Justice Fund (now Youth Spark); and Managing Director of the National Black Arts Festival.

Ph.D. student Deborah J. Richardson learned about courage as a child who grew up on the same street as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s parents, the Rev. and Mrs. Martin Luther King Sr. “The work I do now is a direct reflection of what I saw and learned growing up,” said Richardson, Ph.D. student in Union Institute & University Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Studies Specialization program and Executive Vice President of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.

That work includes fighting, for over 15 years, to change the systemic conditions that contribute to sex trafficking and social inequality for women. She credits her participation in the MLK program with the resolve and theoretical knowledge needed to continue designing leading programs for girls victimized by trafficking and testify before Congress on the legislative and cultural conditions that facilitate the demand to purchase children for sex.

“My advocacy work in addressing human trafficking has been significantly informed by both Dr. King and my public policy courses at Union Institute & University. Human trafficking is based on the economic model of supply and demand. Because of the demand of customers who want to purchase sex from underage children, the trafficker recruits, grooms and makes available the child,” said Richardson. “Until we interrupt the demand, there will always be victims. Our efforts through the International Human Trafficking Institute at The Center for Civil and Human Rights is to redirect the conversation from awareness about human trafficking to action that eliminates the conditions where victims are in demand in the first place.”

Union’s MLK program examines Dr. King’s teachings and how his legacy continues to inform social change. “In his last book:  Where Do We Go From Here:  Community or Chaos?  He predicts a time when we will forget the principles of nonviolence social justice—eliminating racism, militarism, and poverty. Forty-eight years since his death, one has only to read a newspaper or listen to any local or national media outlet and affirm his prediction has come to fruition,” said Richardson. She muses on her studies and challenges her Union peers to reflect on how they will best use their great privilege of education and the access it provides to work for sustainable lives for all.

“Dr. King said charity is good, but at some point, the person has to ask what are the social conditions that make charity necessary. Union students may contribute to these efforts by having conversation, in their sphere of influence, on the social construction of gender, where the objectification of women is reinforced and often encouraged. We can also interrupt one of the most pervasive forms of human trafficking—labor trafficking, by purchasing fair trade items and insuring our own companies are securing items that have a slavery-free supply chain."

Deborah Richardson’s many achievements include the Lives of Commitment Award from Auburn Theological Seminary, The Pathbreaker Award from Shared Hope International, The Big Voice Award from Georgia Voices for Children, and the Community Service Award from Spelman College. Richardson holds a Master of Arts in Leadership from St. Mary’s College of California in Moraga, California.

Learn more about Union’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Studies Specialization program