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Latina activist to deliver Donald L. Hollowell Lecture

Posted March 6, 2018
Reported by: Laurie Anderson,

Athens, GA -- A Latina activist who turned to photography as a means of advancing social justice will present the annual Donald L. Hollowell Lecture on Tuesday, March 20 at the University of Georgia. Maria Varela, a recipient of the MacArthur “genius” grant, will present “Time to Get Ready” at 3:00 p.m. in the Chapel.

Varela was the first Latina to document through the camera lens the civil rights struggles of minorities in the rural South and Southwest. As a field worker for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s, she began photographing African-Americans for a voter literacy program. She went on to capture images of voting rights marches and African-American life that were picked up by news services, turned into posters and calendars and used to motivate communities to enact change.

She continued to work on behalf of marginalized people after moving to New Mexico, where her activities included photographing efforts by Chicanos to reclaim land rights. In 1990 she was awarded a $305,000 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship for her part in founding nonprofit cooperatives that improved health care, social services and employment in isolated Hispanic and Native American communities. The fellowship is often referred to as the “genius” grant.

“Maria Varela is a civil rights trailblazer who overcame barriers based on gender, race and culture to advance social change,” said Llewellyn J. Cornelius, the Donald L. Hollowell Distinguished Professor of Social Justice and Civil Rights Studies at the UGA School of Social Work. “For over five decades she has utilized her skills as a listener, an observer and a communicator to increase literacy, voter participation, and enable traditional rural cultures to thrive.”

Varela co-authored “Rural Environmental Planning for Sustainable Communities,” published in 1992 by Island Press. Her photographs have been included in books and featured in galleries and museums, including the New York Public Library, the Smithsonian Institution and the National Museum for Mexican Art in Chicago, Illinois.

In addition to her organizing work, Varela has held adjunct faculty positions at the University of New Mexico and Colorado College.

The Donald L. Hollowell Lecture is named for the civil rights attorney who was the lead counsel in Holmes v. Danner, the landmark case that in 1961 secured the right for African-Americans to attend the University of Georgia. This year’s lecture is sponsored by the Center for Social Justice, Human and Civil Rights; the School of Social Work; the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Institute; the Office of Institutional Diversity; the School of Public and International Affairs; the Office of Inclusion and Diversity Leadership, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences; the College of Family and Consumer Sciences; and the Institute for African American Studies.

This event is free and open to the public. The Chapel is located on UGA’s campus at 109 Herty Drive, Athens, GA  30602.