Author Gretchen Sorin headlines Kenyon’s annual MLK Day celebration

Sorin is the author of “Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights.”

By David Hoyt

Kenyon College celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. with a virtual event Monday, Jan. 17, from 4 – 5:30 p.m. EST, featuring a keynote address by author and historian Gretchen Sorin titled “Driving While Black: African Americans and Mobility in American Life.” The annual Day of Dialogue program connects King’s legacy to current issues affecting Kenyon’s campus and the world. 

Sorin is director and distinguished professor at the Cooperstown Graduate Program in museum studies at SUNY Oneonta and has had a long career as a museum educator, director and consultant. Her talk at Kenyon is based on her most recent book, “Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights,” which explores the automobile’s impact on African American life. It was named one of the best non-fiction books of 2020 by Bloomberg and is the basis of a recent feature-length PBS documentary of the same name. The New Yorker praised the book for illuminating “how car ownership provided a measure of safety and independence and also played a vital role in the civil-rights movement.”

In addition to “Driving While Black,” Sorin’s books exploring race in America include “Touring Historic Harlem: Four Walks in Northern Manhattan” (with Andrew Dolkart) and “Through the Eyes of Others: African Americans and Identity in American Art” (with Mary C. Aimonovitch). Sorin holds a bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University, master’s degree from the SUNY Oneonta Cooperstown Graduate Program and a doctorate from SUNY Albany. 

This event, presented by Kenyon’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the Faculty Lectureships Committee, includes remarks by Kenyon President Sean Decatur and a Q&A with Sorin moderated by Peter Rutkoff, professor emeritus of American studies. Kenyon faculty will moderate breakout sessions for participants around the topics of national and campus/local activism. Register here for this free event, and visit for more information. 

Prior to the afternoon program, Knox County community leaders will virtually gather at 10 a.m. EST Jan. 17 for the 19th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Breakfast, hosted by the Knox County Martin Luther King Legacy Committee and co-sponsored by Kenyon and Mount Vernon Nazarene University (MVNU). Angelle M. Jones, adjunct professor at MVNU, will serve as keynote speaker on the theme of “In this year of yearning, we are learning,” a quote from poet Amanda Gorman. Decatur, MVNU President Henry W. Spaulding II, Mount Vernon Mayor Matthew Starr and Gambier Mayor Leeman Kessler will give additional remarks. Register here by Jan. 13 to receive a link for this Zoom event, and email or call 740-397-9000 for more information.