Activist, Author, Director, Rocket Scientist—Meet the 2019 Alabama Humanities Fellows

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2019 Alabama Humanities Fellow Fred Gray with Martin Luther King Jr. Photo via Gray’s book, “Bus Ride to Justice”

A nationally recognized civil rights activist. A deputy director at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. A Pulitzer Prize winner. A NASA engineer. This year’s Alabama Humanities Fellows are an impressive group, to say the least—and you have the opportunity to hear them speak right here in Birmingham, AL.

WHAT are Alabama Humanities Fellows?

2019 Fellow Jody Singer. Photo via NASA Marshall on Twitter

The Alabama Humanities Fellow program is hosted through Alabama Humanities Foundation (AHF). Each year, a group of fellows is selected and inducted.

Alabama Humanities Fellows find themselves in prestigious company, with previous fellows including Harper Lee, Cassandra King, and many more.

Being named a fellow is quite an honor—and it’s not an easy feat. AHF describes their fellows as:

“…individuals who have made exemplary contributions to public understanding and valuing of the humanities and in keeping with the Alabama Humanities Foundation’s mission to foster understanding and appreciation of Alabama peoples, communities, and cultures.”

Alabama Humanities Foundation

WHO are Alabama Humanities Fellows?

2018 Alabama Colloquim with some of the 2018 Alabama Humanities Fellows. Photo via AHF

Alabama Humanities Fellows are Alabama natives or residents who have made substantial contributions to the humanities in relationship to Alabama.

Their efforts might include leadership, advocacy, scholarly achievement, or outstanding public work.

Alabama Humanities Fellows work to promote understanding of the benefits of the humanities to the life of our nation and to the state of Alabama.

Meet the 2019 Fellows

This year’s group of Alabama Humanities Fellows are nothing short of outstanding. Every one of them has an impressive career, full of various successes and achievements.

If you’d like to learn more about the fellows, check out the end of this article for your chance to see them all in person! Until then, check out just a few highlights of these illustrious careers.

Marquita Davis

Deputy Director, Early Learning, Pacific Northwest
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Photos via AHF

Marquita Furness Davis, Ph.D., is deputy director of Early Learning, Pacific Northwest for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

  • She leads the foundation’s multi-state early learning strategy, which aims to ensure that all young children have access to high-quality, effective and affordable preschool.
  • Prior to joining the foundation in 2017, she was the executive director of a large, anti-poverty community action agency in Birmingham – the Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity.
  • Appointed by two governors, Davis also served as the director of Finance for the State of Alabama, commissioner for the Alabama Department of Children’s Affairs and Pre-K director for the State of Alabama.
  • She earned her bachelor’s degree from Northern Illinois University, a master’s degree from Alabama A&M University and a Ph.D. in Early Childhood Education and Development from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Fred Gray

Nationally Recognized Civil Rights Activist

Photos via AHF

Fred Gray’s legal career has spanned over 60 years.

  • As a young lawyer in the 1950s segregated South, Fred Gray represented Rosa Parks, who was arrested because she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man, igniting the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the City of Montgomery v. Rosa Parks.
  • He was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.‘s first civil rights attorney.
  • He graduated from Alabama State University in Montgomery and Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland, Ohio.
  • He returned to his native Alabama to practice law in a state that denied him the right to attend law school.
  • Gray was one of the first African Americans to serve in the Alabama Legislature and the first person of color elected president of the Alabama Bar Association.
  • He has received awards from the American Bar Association, the Minority Caucus of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, Harvard University Law School, and the Federal Bar Association.
  • Gray is the author of Bus Ride to Justice, first released in 1995.

Howell Raines

Retired Executive Editor
New York Times

Photos via AHF

Howell Raines is a Birmingham native, retired New York Times Executive Editor, and Pulitzer Prize Winner.

  • Raines began his journalism career in Alabama in 1964
  • He joined the Atlanta bureau of the New York Times in 1978.
  • During Raines’ 25 years at the Times, he served as Atlanta Bureau Chief, National Political Correspondent, White House Correspondent, London Bureau Chief, Washington Editor, Editorial Page Editor, and Executive Editor
  • In 1993, he won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing for “Grady’s Gift,” a New York Times Magazine article describing his friendship with Grady Richardson, a black housekeeper employed by his family during the era of segregation.
  • He is the author of four books
  • Raines earned his bachelor’s degree in English from Birmingham Southern College and a master’s in English from the University of Alabama.
  • He holds honorary doctorates from both institutions.

Jody Singer

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

Photos via AHF

Jody Singer is the director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, managing one of NASA’s largest field installations.

  • Marshall has nearly 6,000 employees and an annual budget of approximately $2.8 billion.
  • Before being named the 14th Center Director – the first woman to hold that post – she served as deputy director of the Center.
  • Singer spent a number of years supporting the Shuttle program. It was Singer who was responsible for safety during the ground test program that led the agency back to flight after the Columbia accident.
  • She has been recognized with numerous awards during her NASA career, including NASA Outstanding Leadership Medals and two Presidential Rank of Meritorious Executive Awards, the highest honor for career federal employees.
  • A native of Hartselle, she earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from the University of Alabama in 1983.

Where can I meet the Alabama Humanities Fellows?

The 2018 Alabama Colloquim. All this brilliance in one room—where do I sign up? Photo via AHF

This was the exact question I was asking after reading these bios. If you’re in that same boat of, “I want to be in the same room with these people,” you’re in luck!

The 2019 Alabama Colloquim is happening right here in Birmingham on October 7. This event honors the four fellows, who will engage in a discussion of life in Alabama and the role the humanities have played in their lives.

The Alabama Colloquim is hosted by Alabama Humanities Foundation and will be moderated by National Public Radio’s Michel Martin. The event is open to the public, but you must reserve your seat!

Tickets are on sale now for everything from single attendees to Alabama Humanities Foundation benefactors.

Get your ticket today and don’t miss out on this outstanding opportunity!

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Beth Cunningham
A Birmingham transplant who can usually be found hitting a new hiking trail or restaurant opening when she's not writing stories and snapping photos for Bham Now.
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