By Gabrielle Maxey
Dr. Marcus W. Orr
Dr. Marcus W. Orr was an inﬂuential professor in the University of Memphis’ Department
of History for three decades. He served as a soldier in World War II. As an activist,
Orr helped to open the University to those with disabilities. As a Renaissance scholar,
he understood that education must speak to the broadest questions that define humanity.
Today the Marcus Orr Center for the Humanities (MOCH) continues Orr’s legacy and encourages
interdisciplinary research and teaching on campus. It was established in 1987 and
renamed for Orr after his death in 1990.
“The Center is a catalyst for critical thought, ethical reﬂection and personal expression
among the academic and public communities,” said director Jonathan Judaken.
Drawing from diverse scholarly works, MOCH aims to cut across the divides between
the sciences and liberal arts to provide programming that challenges individuals to
reimagine their world, offers ways to rethink conventions, and presents the possibility
of new solutions. With that goal, MOCH sponsors reading groups, lectures and other
programming to encourage students, faculty and the Memphis community to discuss important
questions they face locally and nationally.
Some of the more notable events that MOCH has hosted include:
- A 2008 discussion by political activist Angela Davis to commemorate the 40th anniversary
of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “This was the culmination of my
first year as director,” Judaken said. “The Rose Theatre was filled to capacity, as
was the foyer before we had to start turning people away. This made it one of the
largest events of an intellectual orientation ever organized at the U of M.” Among
the celebrities who attended were talk show host Tavis Smiley and provocative intellectual
- The centennial of author Richard Wright (Native Son), which included comments from
his daughter, Julia Wright, and a panel of scholars from different disciplines. The
event culminated with a one-man show by Reginald Brown based on Wright’s writing.
- The debate on “Locke, Liberalism and Slavery” between Robert Bernasconi and James
Farr “was another packed house and intellectually exciting,” Judaken remembers.
- The North American Sartre Society welcomed scholars from around the globe for a conference,
a staging of Sartre’s play No Exit at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, and lectures
at the National Civil Rights Museum. “It highlighted the Marcus Orr Center’s collaborations
with other cultural institutions in Memphis and showcased how it is part of a nexus
of institutions in Memphis working to shift the conversational framework in the city.”
- “American Soldiers and the Liberation of Europe” was the biggest event of 2011, featuring
both Pulitzer Prize-winning author Rick Atkinson and Buchenwald liberator Leon Bass.
It marked the 20th anniversary of Orr’s death.
For more details on the Center or its events, visit www.memphis.edu/moch.