Vernon Burton, a prolific professor of history and director of the CyberInstitute at Clemson University, saw more of American history firsthand as a special guest at the second inauguration of President Barack Obama.
He dined with the Obama’s and their high-powered guests after being one of 10 scholars to contribute to a book published by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies to mark the sesquicentennial anniversary of 1863, the year President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
All essays in the portfolio revolve around events of that year. Burton’s piece, titled “Building the Transcontinental Railroad,” gives an overview of the importance of the railroad and the impact it had on America as the country recovered from the Civil War.
“The construction of the Transcontinental Railroad was one of the most significant events of 1863,” Burton said. “It linked America and led to the standardization of time zones. Railroads helped Lincoln to win the war.”
His book, The Age of Lincoln, was published in 2007 and has won numerous history and literary awards.
There was also a personal connection to his being at the swearing-in festivities. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor was his graduate assistant when he worked on his Ph.D. at Princeton University.
Before attending the inauguration, Burton was invited to Morehouse College in Atlanta, to be part of Morehouse’s Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday celebration. Burton, who has written on the life of South Carolinian Benjamin Mays, a mentor of Dr. King, spoke about freedom and education, relating those two issues to the Emancipation Proclamation and King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
A native of Ninety Six, Burton received his undergraduate degree at Furman University. He joined Clemson’s faculty in 2010.
AUDIO: SCRN’s Ashley Byrd talked with Burton before the event about the railroad history and the inauguration’s connection to SC (4:03)