College of Arts and Humanities

Clemson history professor honored by Morehouse College, joins MLK Jr. Collegium of Scholars


Vernon Burton, the Judge Matthew J. Perry Distinguished Professor of History at Clemson University, has been honored with membership in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Collegium of Scholars at Morehouse College.

The Collegium of Scholars is one of four groups honored by the Martin Luther King Jr. College of Ministers & Laity at Morehouse. Membership in the collegium is awarded to scholars who “are committed to research, writing, teaching and mentoring in a wide variety of disciplines and contexts that promote and give support to the work of peace through moral cosmopolitan social responsibility.”

Burton was inducted into the Collegium at the Benjamin Elijah Mays Crown Forum and Induction Ceremony on October 13, 2022.

“I am proud of the continuing academic excellence at Morehouse and honored by my association with that institution,” Burton said.

Burton’s association with Morehouse started with Benjamin E. Mays, who was a former president of Morehouse College and a mentor to Martin Luther King Jr.

Mays and Burton, who are both natives of the small South Carolina town of Ninety Six, met during a religious emphasis week at Furman University. Burton worked with Mays on a reprint of his autobiography, “Born to Rebel,” for which Burton wrote the foreword.

“That friendship and my relationship with Dr. Mays have been a major treasure in my academic and spiritual life,” Burton said.

Burton’s scholarship has chronicled the struggle for racial justice in the South. In 2020, he co-authored “Justice Deferred: Race and the Supreme Court” with civil rights lawyer Armand Derfner, which provides the “first comprehensive accounting of the U.S. Supreme Court’s race-related jurisprudence.”

In 2018, Burton organized the Abraham Lincoln’s Unfinished Work Conference at Clemson, which explored the history of political and social reconstruction in the United States from the end of the U.S. Civil War to the present. This year, he co-edited a book, “Lincoln’s Unfinished Work” which compiles and expands upon key research presented at the conference.

He is perhaps best known for his landmark book, “The Age of Lincoln,” a critically-acclaimed history of the five decades surrounding Lincoln’s presidency. He has applied his scholarship to real-world outcomes as well, testifying as an expert witness for minority plaintiffs in discrimination and voting rights cases.

“I believe, as did Dr. King, that we can use what talents we have to try and make the arc of history bend ultimately toward justice,” he said.

About the Martin Luther King Jr. College of Ministers and Laity

Sponsored by the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel at Morehouse College, the annual College of Ministers & Laity is the Chapel’s signature program. For 37 years, it has attracted some of the brightest minds across an array of disciplines to engage in dialogue, learning, growing and revealing. Dr. Hugh Morris Gloster Sr., the seventh president of Morehouse, founded the Chapel in 1978. Gloster said that alumnus Martin Luther King Jr. ’48 was “the archetype of an educated person – one who combined academic achievement and professional success with personal integrity and social concern.” Gloster added that “the life of Martin Luther King Jr. [is] worthy of emulation by all.”

In recognition of Dr. King’s role as an exemplar of adaptive faithful servant scholar moral cosmopolitan leadership, a highlight of the College of Ministers & Laity is the induction of honorees into the Martin Luther King Jr. International Board of Preachers, Board of Sponsors, Collegium of Scholars and the College of Pastoral Leadership (added in 2016). Like Dr. King, these individuals have demonstrated and are evolving toward great achievement in their chosen vocation, a profound commitment to their community and society, the planet and the cosmos and are living their lives according to a high standard of cosmopolitan ethical principles. The honor to be conferred introducing each honoree to Forty-Six Normative Cosmopolitan Personalist Axiological Ethical Options, cosmopolitan ethical principles that guided Dr. King in leading the nonviolent civil and human rights movement and living his life.

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