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University to feature civil rights activist Brenda Travis in Jan. 16 MLK chapel

President J. Randall O’Brien stands with civil rights activist, Brenda Travis, following a 2012 university chapel service. Both Travis and O’Brien will lead a campus Martin Luther King, Jr. chapel service on Tuesday, Jan. 16.

(Jan. 10, 2018) – Carson-Newman University will welcome students back to campus with a special 9:30 a.m. chapel service Tuesday, Jan. 16 at Jefferson City’s First Baptist Church. Carson-Newman President J. Randall O’Brien will conduct “A Conversation with Legendary Mississippi Civil Rights Heroine, Brenda Travis.”

Travis, a civil rights activist, was jailed in 1961 for entering the “white only” Greyhound bus station in McComb, Mississippi. She was arrested and spent a month in jail. As a result, she was expelled from high school and sent to a reform school for a period of one year. However, after six months, Travis was released in the middle of the night and told that if she didn’t leave Mississippi, her safety could not be assured.

Both O’Brien and Travis grew up in McComb and O’Brien considers Travis one of his “heroes” of the civil rights movement.

Forty-five years after Travis left Mississippi, she was invited back to McComb to receive a high school diploma in a special ceremony. At the time, O’Brien was serving as executive vice-president and provost of Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and became aware of the ceremony. He drove “back home” to meet Travis. At the end of the ceremony, O’Brien presented Travis with the Bronze Star he had earned while serving in Vietnam.

“That bronze medal that I received needed to get to the right person,” said O’Brien. “Brenda Travis was the right person to receive that medal for all that she went through in Mississippi.”

In 2012, Travis traveled to Carson-Newman’s campus to speak as part of programs surrounding the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., holiday. Travis and O’Brien remain close friends.

The chapel service featuring O’Brien and Travis is free and open to the public.

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