To Sir, With Love Author to Receive Honorary Degree from UMES

  • Friday, September 3, 2010

     

    E.R. BraithwaitePRINCESS ANNE, MD - (Sept. 2, 2010) - E.R. Braithwaite - physicist, social worker, U.N. ambassador - will receive an honorary degree Tuesday, Sept. 14, during the University of Maryland Eastern Shore's annual Founders' Week convocation.

    Educator Lorenzo Hughes, a 1996 UMES graduate, will be the convocation's keynote speaker. Hughes is assistant superintendent for instruction in Dorchester County's public school system. The event begins 10 a.m. in the Ella Fitzgerald Performing Arts Center. 

    Braithwaite is best known for writing "To Sir, With Love," an autobiography of his experience teaching churlish teens at a private London school in the 1950s.

    The book inspired a 1967 movie of the same name, starring Sidney Poitier, as well as the year's best-selling pop music song.

    When visiting New York after the movie and song were released, Braithwaite said he "found it rather strange. Having all that attention thrust upon me was a bit disconcerting."

    His UMES appearance coincides with the celebration of the university's founding in September 1886. Physical therapy students who have completed their studies will receive their doctoral degrees that day.

    Braithwaite holds degrees from Queens College in his native Guyana, and Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge, England. He volunteered for the Royal Air Force, which he served as a fighter pilot during World War II.

    He could not find work as a physicist after the war, so he turned to teaching and then social work - jobs where he encountered racism that motivated him to write about social conditions and struggles blacks faced.

    Braithwaite visited South Africa in 1973 after it lifted a ban on his books. His six-week stay on a visa granting him "honorary white" status moved him to write "Honorary White," another seminal book on race relations.

    "I believe the message in that book is still relevant today," Braithwaite said. "I would hope people who might pick it up and read it will agree."

    Braithwaite, now 90, recently penned "Billingsly" - a children's story about "a little toy bear with a crinkled ear" that has had limited distribution. His goal was writing for young readers in a more sophisticated way.

    Braithwaite's honorary degree from UMES will be his ninth.

    "I am pleased to be recognized by the university. I am looking forward to coming and visiting the campus," he said. "I guess I see (the honorary degree) as an acknowledgement of the work I have done over the years."

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    Bill Robinson, UMES Office of Public Relations, 410-621-2355. wrobinson3@umes.edu

    Gail Stephens, UMES Office of Public Relations, 410-651-7580, gcstephens1@umes.edu