Diversity keynote speaker marched with King in 60s

Children's Cursade - Photo credit: Bill Hudson, Associated Press

Photo credit: Bill Hudson, Associated Press

Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, is credited with transforming the institution from an obscure commuter-university into one of the nation’s premier universities.

Marching in the Children’s Crusade

If you want to get a feel for Dr. Freeman Hrabowski—for the brilliant and impassioned man who’ll deliver the keynote at Colorado State University’s Diversity Symposium next week—view his TED 2013 talk, “Four Pillars of College Success in Science.”

In his talk, Dr. Freeman Hrabowski tells the story of how he joined the 1963 Children’s Crusade march for civil rights in Birmingham, Alabama.

A few days before the march, he was sitting in church with his parents. “I didn’t want to be there,” he said. “I was being placated by doing math problems.

“I heard a man say, ‘If we can get the children to participate in this peaceful demonstration here in Birmingham, we can show America that even children know the difference between right and wrong and that children really do want to get the best possible education.’

“I looked up and said, ‘Who is that man?’

“My parents said his name was Martin Luther King, and I said, ‘I want to go!’”

“I was actually pretty scared”

Hrabowski’s parents were up all night, agonizing over whether to allow him to join the march. He was only 12-years-old. The Birmingham Police would use fire hoses and dogs against the demonstrators and had vowed to make mass arrests.

Hrabowski tried to persuade his parents to let him go.  He wasn’t a thrill seeker. No one had pushed him to join. “I was actually pretty scared,” he said. The reason he wanted to march was because he loved learning. “I knew I wanted a good education, the resources I needed, good teachers, not hand-me-down books,” he said.

Hrabowski marched. The notorious Public Safety Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Conner spat in his face. Hrabowski was arrested and spent five days incarcerated.

But he made a lasting impact. He spent five days and nights reassuring many of the other children, all of whom had been locked up with hardened criminals. Hrabowski remembers the day that the children were finally united with their parents. “King came and said, ‘What you children do this day will have an impact on generations who have not been born.'”


Hrabowski went on graduate at 19 from the Hampton Institute with high honors in mathematics. He received his M.A. in mathematics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, as well as his Ph.D. in higher education administration and statistics.

Hrabowski has since been acknowledged for his leadership, expertise and vision, which have been incorporated into science/technology/engineering/mathematics programs in universities and school systems around the country.

Among World’s 100 Most Influential People

For an overview of Hrabowski’s life and work, read Time Magazine’sThe World’s 100 Most Influential People: 2012.”  Time’s tribute to Hrabowski will make you realize how fortunate CSU is to have him fly in next week to speak at the symposium.

A few of Hrabowski’s achievements:

  • Credited with transforming an obscure, commuter university into a research institution recognized as one of the most innovative in the country and one of the nation’s premier universities
  • Received the Carnegie Corporation of New York’s Academic Leadership Award, one of the highest honors given to an educator
  • Appointed by President Obama as Chair of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans
  • Read more about Hrabowski’s career and accomplishments

Keynote talk at Diversity Symposium

The 14th Annual Diversity Symposium keynote talk takes place on Wednesday, September 17 at 6:30 p.m. in the Lory Student Center Theatre. Hrabowski will speak about access and retention in higher education.

Diversity Symposium, September 16-18

This year’s Diversity Symposium will be held Wednesday, September 16 through Thursday, September 18. Visit the website to read more about the highlights of the symposium.