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KNOXVILLE –- Civil rights pioneer Rita Geier will speak at the seventh annual Julian Blackshear Scholarship Banquet, sponsored by the University of Tennessee’s Black Law Student Association, on April 21.

Rita Sanders Geier
Rita Sanders Geier
The event, themed “A Celebration of Diversity,” begins with a reception at 5:30 p.m. Dinner and program follow at 6:30 p.m. at Riverside Tavern, 950 Volunteer Landing.

Proceeds from this event will benefit the Julian Blackshear Scholarship fund. The program is named in honor of Julian Blackshear, one of UT’s first black law school graduates, who is now a retired attorney living in Nashville.

Geier made Tennessee history in 1968 by challenging the legality of the state’s higher education system, alleging it was still segregated. Her suit was prompted by UT’s announcement of its intent to expand in Nashville. An instructor at Tennessee State University at the time, she feared the state’s resources would be devoted to building UT’s presence in the capital city and that the historically black TSU would be neglected. The resulting consent decree provided years of state funding to help African-American students attending Tennessee’s colleges and universities. The consent decree was dismissed earlier this year.

Geier, who spoke at commencement in December, told the graduates then that she was honored by the invitation to address UT’s graduates — and that her appearance on campus shouldn’t surprise anyone.

“It is the culmination of a relationship that was born in contention many decades ago, but that has grown into mutual respect, shared vision and accomplishment,” she said.

In January 2002, Geier became executive counselor to the commissioner of Social Security for special initiatives, serving as principal adviser on Medicare appeals, identity theft and other key initiatives.

Geier has had extensive teaching and public speaking experience and has addressed many conferences and organizations on topics including administrative adjudication, Social Security practice and expanding diversity in higher education. Currently, Geier serves on the Social Equity Panel of the National Academy of Public Administration.

Tickets for the Blackshear Scholarship Banquet, available from the College of Law’s Office of Development and Alumni Affairs, are $35 for the general public and $25 for UT students and children under 18. Table sponsorships are available for $350. Reservations should be made by April 17.


Jennifer Thomas, (865) 974-6858,
Amy Blakely, (865) 974-5034,