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FAMU Alumnus Makes History at Vanderbilt

FAMU alumnus Larry O. Rivers (center) takes a photo with his father and mother, Larry E. Rivers and Betty H. Rivers. 

June 30, 2011


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida A&M University (FAMU) alumnus Larry O. Rivers became the first African American to successfully defend a doctoral dissertation in Vanderbilt University’s Department of History. Rivers, who currently teaches history at Augusta State University in Augusta, Ga., recently returned to Nashville, Tenn. to participate in his graduate alma mater’s commencement ceremony.

“My FAMU education really helped me refine my skills as a researcher, writer and critical thinker,” Rivers said. “That solid foundation prepared me to excel in the rigorous environment of a top-level national research university.”

Larry’s parents watched proudly as he received his doctoral hood and crossed the stage. His mother, Betty H. Rivers, formerly worked in administrative positions for the City of Tallahassee and finished her career as business services manager for the Tallahassee Regional Airport. His father, Larry E. Rivers, taught history at FAMU and served as dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. He is now the president of Fort Valley State University. Larry also has one younger brother, Linjé, who is a legal counsel for the Florida Department of Financial Services.

“Vanderbilt provided me with many phenomenal educational experiences,” Rivers said. “Not only did this institution give me an opportunity to work with leading national experts in the field of African American religion, it also permitted me to study with living legends of the struggle for educational equality and civil rights.”

One of those “living legends” was former FAMU President Frederick S. Humphries, who served as a Distinguished Visiting Research Professor at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College in 2007-2008. Another was the Rev. James M. Lawson, Jr., a Distinguished Visiting University Professor who was one of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s lieutenants during the Civil Rights Movement.

Rivers, a recipient of the prestigious Harold Stirling Vanderbilt Fellowship, wrote his dissertation on the late Rev. Dr. James Hudson, a former professor of philosophy and university chaplain at FAMU from 1946 to 1973. The biography focuses on Hudson’s role in launching the 1956 Tallahassee Bus Boycott and setting the foundation for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s rise as the premier spokesman of the Civil Rights Movement.

Vanderbilt Professor Dennis C. Dickerson, who holds the James M. Lawson, Jr. Chair in History and also serves as the Historiographer of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, advised Rivers’ research.

“The Rivers dissertation, done at Vanderbilt University, will be a book and a scholarly statement about engaged African-American intellectuals and their connection with those less fortunate than themselves,” Dickerson said. “Dr. Rivers, at his young age, has already distinguished himself as a scholar to watch in coming years.”

Throughout the course of his research, Rivers relied heavily upon the James Hudson Papers Collection compiled by FAMU Professor E. Murell Dawson, director of the Carrie Meek-James N. Eaton, Sr. Southeastern Regional Black Archives Research Center and Museum.

At FAMU, Rivers majored in public relations. He was a National Achievement Scholar, Presidential Distinguished Scholar, and John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Journalism Scholar. The School of Journalism and Graphic Communication named him the “Outstanding Student in Journalism” (2003), “Outstanding Student in Public Relations” (2004), and “Outstanding Public Relations Writer” (2004). Additionally, Rivers was elected FAMU student body president for the 2003-2004 school year. In 2003, he won Seat IV on the Ochlockonee River Soil & Water Conservation Board with 28,870 votes, becoming the youngest elected official in Leon County, Florida. Rivers was also a member of the Beta Nu Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. As a college freshman, he authored a book chronicling the history of the FAMU College of Law which was published by the FAMU Foundation, Inc.

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