The daylong event, titled “From the Middle Passage to the Oval Office: Defining the Black Experience,” celebrated Black History Month and featured graduate-student presentations and an admission-information session aimed at the 50 prospective students who registered.

Rashad, best known for playing Clair Huxtable on The Cosby Show, spoke about remembrance and connection to history to a captivated audience in Friend Center. Rashad cited people from the Gullah, an isolated region of South Carolina settled by slaves, who retained their sense of dignity and grace. “Because they weren’t subjected to the mainland, there was no sense of being penalized,” Rashad said. This same grace and dignity is displayed by first lady Michelle Obama ’85, Rashad said, “because her people are from the Gullah.”  

Dinkins, who spoke on a panel with Trenton mayor Douglas Palmer and Princeton Borough mayor Mildred Trotman, discussed a wide range of issues, including the future of black politics and President Obama’s impact on the black community. While all three mayors applauded racial progress in the country, they also offered sobering accounts of further challenges.

“We’ve come a long way, but the New York Post showed us we’ve got a long way to go,” Palmer said, referring to the controversy over an editorial cartoon that some viewed as depicting Obama as a monkey. The Post apologized, but said the monkey was in reference to a chimpanzee attack in Connecticut, not to the president.