Killing King’s Dream: Law Professor Angela Onwuachi-Willig to give 2016 Martin Luther King Jr. Endowed Lecture

Angela Onwuachi-Willig, Charles M. and Marion J. Kierscht Professor of Law at the University of Iowa, will be visiting Luther College on January 18, 2016 as our Williams Endowed Martin Luther King Jr. Speaker. She will be delivering a lecture entitled, "Killing King’s Dream: Examining the Ties Between Till and Trayvon." Dr. Onwuachi-Willig will be visiting two classes before her evening lecture.

The lecture will be held at 7 p.m. in the Center for Faith and Life, Recital Hall (CRH). It is free and open to the public. It is sponsored by Africana Studies, the Lawrence and Queen Williams Endowment Fund, the Paideia Endowment Fund, and the Diversity Center.

Lecture Description

The ties between Emmett Till and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are many. One such tie is that the brutal murder of Till helped to ignite the Montgomery Bus Boycott, an event that Dr. King led and that is frequently highlighted as the start of the Civil Rights Movement. Indeed, Rosa Parks, whose refusal to give up her seat on a bus, helped to spark the Boycott, is reported as identifying Till as the source of inspiration on that important day. She proclaimed, “I thought of Emmett Till, and when the bus driver ordered me to move to the back, I just couldn’t move.”

Eight years later when  A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin were planning the March on Washington, they selected the anniversary of Till’s murder—August 28—as the date for this historic march. On that date, August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. When Dr. King asserted that he had “a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice,” he was hopeful that, by the turn of the century, there would no longer be incidents that could so easily invoke the memory of Till. Yet, in 2012, when George Zimmerman shot an unarmed Trayvon Martin while he was walking to the house of his father’s girlfriend, many began to identify Trayvon Martin as the millennial generation’s Till. Too many similar deaths have followed.

In this King Lecture, Professor Angela Onwuachi-Willig will consider the question of how far we have come, and not come, with respect to racialized killings of unarmed black bodies since August 28, 1955, by examining and comparing the deaths of Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin and the trials that followed these tragedies. In so doing, she will explore and analyze one important, but underexplored similarity between the two cases: their shared basis in the protection of whiteness.  Specifically, she will reveal how the two killings and trials centered on the policing of the boundaries of whiteness.


Dr. Onwuachi-Willig is the Charles and Marion Kierscht Professor of Law at the University of Iowa. She graduated from Grinnell College, Phi Beta Kappa, with a B.A. in American Studies, and received her J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School, where she was a Clarence Darrow Scholar and a Note Editor on the Michigan Law Review and an Associate Editor of the founding issue of the Michigan Journal of Race and Law.

After law school, she clerked for Judge Solomon Oliver, now Chief U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Ohio, and Judge Karen Nelson Moore, U.S. Circuit Judge for the Sixth Circuit. She also worked as a labor and employment associate at Jones Day in Cleveland, Ohio and Foley Hoag in Boston, Massachusetts.She also served as the Scholar-in-Residence at the Thelton Henderson Center for Social Justice at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law.

In 2006, Professor Onwuachi-Willig was honored by the Minority Groups Section of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) with the Derrick A. Bell Award, which is given to a junior faculty member who has made an extraordinary contribution to legal education, the legal system, or social justice. In December of 2010, Professor Onwuachi-Willig was elected to the American Law Institute and she was selected as a finalist for the Iowa Supreme Court. In 2011, she was named one of America’s top young legal professionals by the National Law Journal, which placed her on its “Minority 40 under 40” list. In 2012, she won the Marion Huit Award, a University award given to a tenured faculty member in recognition of outstanding teaching and assistance to students, exceptional research and writing, and dedicated service to the University and the surrounding community.

Professor Onwuachi-Willig is a past Chair of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) Minority Groups Section and the AALS Law and Humanities Section, a past Chair of the AALS Committee for the Recruitment and Retention of Minorities, and a former member of the Board of Governors for the Society of American Law Teachers. She currently serves as Chair-Elect of the AALS Employment Discrimination Section.

In September 2013, she was given the opportunity to speak at the TEDx Talks in Des Moines about the 1920s court case Rhinelander v. Rhinelander.


Her articles have appeared in or are forthcoming in many prestigious law journals, including the Yale Law Journal, California Law Review, Michigan Law Review, Georgetown Law Journal, and Vanderbilt Law Review. Professor Onwuachi-Willig also has published numerous newspaper opinion-editorials. Her book According to Our Hearts: Rhinelander v. Rhinelander and the Law of the Multiracial Family(Yale University Press) was published in the spring of 2013.


Angela Onwuachi-Willig

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