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Higginbotham to Deliver MLK Address

By Stacey E. Blau
Staff Reporter

Renowned jurist and legal scholar A. Leon Higginbotham Jr. will speak at MIT's Feb. 10 celebration honoring civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

This year's activities mark the Institute's 21st annual celebration of King's life and work. King would have turned 66 last Sunday.

Higginbotham is the chief judge emeritus of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and Public Service Professor of Jurisprudence at Harvard University.

Higginbotham's address is part of a series of day-long events, said Leo Osgood Jr., the new dean of the Office of Minority Education. Osgood is co-chairing the planning committee for the MLK celebration with Professor of Physics Michael S. Feld '62.

The events will begin with an invitational breakfast hosted by President Charles M. Vest and his wife Rebecca welcoming Higginbotham, Osgood said.

The theme of this year's address and celebration is "The Trumpet of Conscious: Dr. Martin Luther King's Contract with America." The traditional silent march from Lobby 7 to Kresge Auditorium at noon will precede Higginbotham's address, Osgood said.

King "developed a contract with America," Osgood said. "Judge Higginbotham would like to explore that thought as it relates to the civil rights movement," he said.

Higginbotham discussed the contract with America theme in a Dec. 1 Boston Globe column entitled "Our Contract' with Rosa Parks." In the column, he addressed the new Republican-majority Congress: "Today, many African-Americans and other persons of good will are hoping that your Contract with America' will not constitute a turning back in the denial of justice to the weak, the poor, the powerless, and minorities."

A reception in the Student Center will follow the Kresge address, Osgood said. Higginbotham will meet and talk with members of the MIT community at the reception.

The celebration will continue Saturday, Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. in Kresge with a performance by jazz vocalist Semenya McCord, Osgood said. McCord will be performing "A Journey into a Dream," a musical tribute to King.

In addition, Melvin H. King, director of the Community Fellows Program, plans to conduct a weekend youth conference, Osgood said.

Highly involved in government

The MIT community might better remember Higginbotham for his support of the Institute in the Overlap case. In the case, the Justice Department charged MIT and other schools with violating the Sherman Antitrust Act by discussing and agreeing upon the financial aid packages of individual students who had been offered admission to more that one of the schools.

After nearly three years of litigation, the case was settled in December 1993. In June 1993, Higginbotham joined MIT's attorney and made an impassioned argument before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He argued that the public service aspect of the case outweighed the alleged harm of price-fixing. "This is not the politics of exclusion, it is the practice of inclusion," he said.

Higginbotham served as circuit judge and chief judge of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals from 1977 until his retirement in March of 1993. Prior to his tenure as an appeals judge, Higginbotham served as a district court judge for 13 years.

He was named a member of the Federal Trade Commission in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy. He was the youngest person ever appointed a member of the FTC as well as the first black person to serve on a commission of a federal regulatory agency.

President Lyndon B. Johnson later appointed Higginbotham vice chairman of the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence. Higginbotham also served on a variety of judicial conference committees under the tenure of Supreme Court Chief Justices Earl Warren, Warren Burger, and William Rehnquist.

Higginbotham is the author of a book entitled In the Matter of Color - Race and the American Legal Process: The Colonial Period. The book garnered several national and international awards. Higginbotham is presently in the process of writing two more books.

Higginbotham received his law degree from Yale University in 1952. In addition to his present teaching position at Harvard, he has also taught at the law schools of the University of Michigan, New York University, the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University, and Yale.