Taylor Branch

Taylor BranchTaylor Branch is an American author and public speaker best known for his landmark trilogy on the civil rights era, America in the King Years. He his returned to civil rights history in his latest book, The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement (2013). His 2009 memoir, The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President, chronicles an unprecedented eight-year project to gather a sitting president’s comprehensive oral history secretly on tape. His cover story for the October 2011 issue of The Atlantic, “The Shame of College Sports,” touched off continuing national debate. Aside from writing, Taylor speaks before a wide variety of audiences. He began his career as a magazine journalist for The Washington Monthly in 1970, moving later to Harper’s and Esquire. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Read full biography > (Photo Credit: Jean-Pierre Isbendjian)

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Citizenship and Freedom: The civil rights era, a pioneer venture in online education

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Happy New Year. This is a personal note about career innovation in the works.

December’s front-page headline in the Baltimore Sun captures our leap of faith: UB Hopes New Type of Online Class Will Transform Education. UB is the University of Baltimore, here in my home city, and ”hope is the operative word. We are excited and unsure, improvising every day, signing up various kinds of students from potentially the entire globe for our first weekly seminar on Tuesday, January 28, 2014.

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The path of adaptation strains upward but rushes ahead. Only a year ago, Simon & Schuster published my compact narrative history, The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement. Based on classroom discussions from Alabama to Idaho, I gave the book an unusual author’s dedication,  ”For students of freedom and teachers of history.

Civic education has suffered in part because school standards now emphasize math and reading above history. This is a special hazard in a country founded as a bold experiment to secure freedom in the capacity of citizens for self-government.

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Many teachers, under siege, had urged me to preserve the storytelling engagement of my civil rights histories in a shorter format for the digital age. These selected moments now reach back fifty years to a dimly remembered civil rights era, when movements led by ordinary citizens uplifted the founding premise of We the People. Their disciplined public trust dispelled cynicism. Their struggles offer abiding lessons for the future.

I had taught seminars in civil rights history since the 1990s, most recently at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Our recent experiments at the University of Baltimore have measured the promise of online learning by the standards of academic rigor. Can a course fairly serve both in-class students and digital participants from Hawaii or Russia? Such problems occupied us through most of 2013.

 

Now we take the next step. Citizenship & Freedom is not a MOOC. Freedom is not free, but quality education should be affordable.

Course information is available on www.freedomclass.org which includes the 14-week syllabus and registration procedures for several student categories.

I am grateful to the new associate instructor, Dr. Jelani Favors, and to colleagues within the hosting University of Maryland system for their entrepreneurial courage.

Adventures and thickets loom ahead. Updates soon.

A Dad’s Dream

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This website has tracked a number of my professional pursuits, from author’s notes and speeches to ongoing clashes with the NCAA and our experimental online college history class, “Citizenship and Freedom.” Here is something different.

Our daughter Macy married John Macaskill on September 7. The official wedding photos offer glimpses of a storybook moment for our merged family and friends. Christy and I are still amazed that we could produce such a beautiful, happy bride.

 

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The ceremony took place at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Cold Spring Harbor, NY, where Macy had been christened. Her maternal grandmother, Kay Macy, has belonged there since 1950, and we were blessed to have “Mum” the wedding’s senior attendant at 101 years old! The immediate families posed afterward outside, with brothers Ben Macaskill (l) and Franklin Branch on the flanks.

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At the reception, hosted by our new in-laws John and Bridget Macaskill, Macy asked me to sing “My Girl” for her.  This was a thrill second only to walking her down the aisle, but there was drama on the stage.  Starlight’s bandleader said I was supposed to accompany myself.  I panicked.  With aplomb, she told me to stall while she urgently recalled musicians from their break.

This video, courtesy of my brother Gary’s cell phone, picks up in mid-stall.

Tradition obliges the father of the bride to offer a toast during the reception dinner. Despite rambling praise, mine did beat the strict 10-minute time limit.  What bubbled up included a surprise tribute for Christy, who once saved Macy’s life, and my sister Lucie’s cell phone captured family memories for those who care to indulge them.

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All pictures courtesy of Raquel Reis Photography