Whitworth Communications

For Immediate Release

May 2, 2001

Successor to Martin Luther King Sr. at Ebenezer Baptist Church to be Keynote Speaker at Whitworth Commencement Ceremony

The Rev. Joseph L. Roberts, Jr., who has been at the center of sweeping social changes since he succeeded Martin Luther King, Sr., as senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church of Atlanta in 1975, will deliver Whitworth College's 2001 commencement address. The ceremony begins at 3 p.m. May 20 at the Spokane Arena. Bachelor's degrees will be conferred on an estimated 420 graduates, with Roberts receiving an honorary doctor of divinity degree.

"Rev. Roberts has been a champion in working for racial harmony and justice; our community and our graduates will surely benefit from his message of reconciliation and peace," says Whitworth President William P. Robinson. "We are indebted to Whitworth alumnus and former trustee Sam Gulley and his great wife, Linda, for helping to bring Rev. Roberts to our commencement."

At a separate ceremony for graduates of the college's seven master's programs, Robinson will deliver the keynote address, inspired by the writings of Plato, titled "Going Back into the Cave." An estimated 100 degree recipients will participate in the ceremony, scheduled for 10 a.m. May 19 in Cowles Memorial Auditorium on campus. At the invitation of the graduating seniors, Associate Dean of Students Richard Mandeville and Assistant Dean of Students Dayna Coleman will speak at the college's baccalaureate ceremony at 10 a.m. on May 20, also in Cowles Memorial Auditorium. The title of their message is "Listen: Your Life is Happening."

Roberts, who is only the fourth senior pastor in Ebenezer Baptist's 115-year history, will speak on the topic of "Tied Together and Accountable." He also will take part in an informal question-and-answer session on civil rights, social justice, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ebenezer Baptist Church and other issues at 1:30 p.m. on May 19 in Whitworth's Seeley Mudd Chapel. Whitworth Psychology Professor James Waller, who has taken students to Ebenezer Baptist and met with Roberts as part of his acclaimed Prejudice Across America study tour, will moderate the session, which is free and open to the public.

"Having Rev. Roberts join us for commencement weekend is a chance to have history join us," Waller says. "For more than 25 years, he has welcomed the responsibility and charge that comes with leading a church that lies at the heart of the history of the Civil Rights Movement. More than history, though, Rev. Roberts brings with him a contemporary message of the spiritual call for racial reconciliation and healing -- a call with which all communities should be challenged. He's a great man from a great place in history that brings us a great message."

During his 25-year tenure as senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist, Roberts has welcomed more than 2,000 new members to the church and has helped launch a teenage mothers ministry, a senior citizens' daycare center, a food cooperate and a variety of other community outreach programs.

Before taking over the pulpit at Ebenezer Baptist, Roberts was the director of the Division of Corporate and Social Mission of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and he served as pastor of two Presbyterian churches that grew significantly under his leadership.

Roberts is chairman of the executive board of the New Era State Baptist Convention and serves on the boards of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Morehouse School of Religion, Rhodes College, Southerners for Economic Justice and the Fund for Theological Education.

His honors include the United Negro College Fund Alumnus of the Year Award, the first Award for Innovative Congregations by the Alban Institute, invitations to preach at churches in six different countries and across the United States and honorary degrees from five institutions.

Roberts earned his bachelor of arts degree at Knoxville College in 1953, his master of divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary in 1959, and a master of theology degree from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1968.

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private, liberal arts college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The college enrolls 2,000 students in more than 50 undergraduate and graduate programs.


Greg Orwig, director of communications, (509) 777-4580 or gorwig@whitworth.edu.

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