Nobel Prize-winning Nigerian poet and political dissident Wole Soyinka delivered the second of three lectures before a crowd of about 200 at Emerson Hall yesterday.
In his speech, titled "Negritude: The Poet as Mediator and Accuser," Soyinka discussed "negritute," which he defined as "race-specific African humanism."
"Black culture has always resisted any invading force that thought they knew better than Africans," Soyinka said. "Negritude became a weapon.
Soyinka, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1986, was a fellow at the W.E.B. DuBois Insti-the Woodruff Professor of the Arts at Emory University in Georgia.
Soyinka said negritute's search for worth in African culture was a reaction to racism.
"This was the underlying question that launched the quest for negritude: What have we done to weigh so little on their scale?" Soyinka said.
Soyinka told the crowded room that the origin of negritude lay in American black poetry.
He praised Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose beliefs he called "the bedrock of Christian faith: Love your enemies."
Soyinka is in exile from Nigeria, and was recently charged with trea-
Soyinka was arrested in 1967 on charges of conspiring with rebels early in the Nigerian civil war and was held in solitary confinement for more than two years.
He continued to write while in prison on books smuggled in to him, on cigarette packs and on toilet paper. On these notes he based several publications, including The Man Died (1972) which was banned in Nigeria in 1984.
Protesters disrupted Soyinka's first speech in the series Tuesday. Yesterday, Soyinka said the protesters were paid agents of the Nigerian government, registered with the U.S. State Department.
Although last night's event was not disrupted, Soyinka announced beforehand, "If they are here today, I would ask them to please park their guns outside so we can get on with business."
Soyinka was the first African to receive the Nobel Prize in literature.
When an audience member asked about second generation African-American children unable to speak their parents' native language, Soyinka said, "I think it's a shame." But, he cautioned, "Having said that, ebonics is not the answer."
Du Bois Professor of the Humanities Henry Louis Gates Jr., who attended the lecture, called Soyinka "the unanimous first choice" for the lecture series.
"He was my professor at Cambridge in England in 1973," Gates said.
Gates harshly criticized the Nigerian dictatorship. "It's terrible that the government has illegally accused him of treason," Gates said. "We all look forward to the day when the Nigerian government has toppled."
Soyinka chairs the editorial board of Transition, an African intellectual journal edited at the Du Bois Institute.
Yesterday's speech was part of the first annual Genevieve McMillian-Reba Stewart Series, endowed by McMillan.
This year's series is titled "The Burden of Memory and the Muse of Remission." It is co-sponsored by the Department of Afro-American Studies, the Du Bois Institute on Afro-American Research, and Oxford University Press.
According to Susan Chang, an editor at Oxford Press, the British publisher will release a book based on the lecture series next year.
Soyinka will deliver the final lecture of the series, "A Lesson from the Balafon" today at 5 p.m. in Emerson 105