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Civil Rights Pioneer Dorothy Cotton to Receive Honorary Degree from Ithaca College

ITHACA, NY — Civil rights pioneer Dorothy Cotton will be awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Ithaca College at its 2011 Commencement ceremony on May 22. Cotton served as education director for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference under Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and continues to spread her message of freedom and hope to people around the world.

Cotton has spoken several times at the college, most recently as part of the 2011 celebration of MLK Week. In recommending her for the degree, the Honorary Degree Committee of the Ithaca College Board of Trustees noted that Cotton “has shared her powerful presence and visionary message with Ithaca College through presentations on our campus and has been a caring and engaged member of the Ithaca community.”

Born in Goldsboro, North Carolina, Cotton earned a degree in English and library science from Virginia State College and a master’s degree in speech therapy from Boston University. She returned to the South in 1960 to become involved in the civil rights movement, and throughout that tumultuous decade she served with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Running the Citizenship Education Program, she helped instruct the disenfranchised on the importance of political participation, voter registration and nonviolent protest.

Cotton worked closely with King as a member of his executive staff and traveled with him to Oslo, Norway, when he received the Nobel Peace Prize. She later served as southern regional director for ACTION, the federal agency for volunteer programs, and as the vice president for field operations for the Dr. M.L.K. Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta.

From 1982 to 1991, Cotton served as director of student activities at Cornell University, and in 2010 the Center for Transformative Action, a Cornell affiliate, established the Dorothy Cotton Institute to promote a global community for civil and human rights leadership. That same year, she was presented with the Freedom Award by the National Civil Rights Museum.

A founding member of the National Citizenship School, Cotton serves as a valuable resource to organizations on topics addressing race relations, multiculturalism/diversity, communication, personal development, spiritual growth, human relations, citizenship education, civic organizing for the 21st century and nonviolence education. Through “Songs of the Movement,” a program of song and storytelling, she brings the civil rights era alive to new generations, synthesizing lessons from our history into a working vision for the future.

In addition to the awarding of the honorary degree to Cotton, Ithaca College’s Commencement ceremony will feature an address by award–winning ABC News anchor and correspondent David Muir, a 1995 graduate of the college, and remarks by college president Tom Rochon and senior class president Danielle Giserman.