TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida A&M University (FAMU) alumnus Larry O. Rivers became the first African American to successfully defend a doctoral dissertation in Vanderbilt University’s Department of History. Rivers, who currently teaches history at Augusta State University in Augusta, Ga., recently returned to Nashville, Tenn. to participate in his graduate alma mater’s commencement ceremony.

“My FAMU education really helped me refine my skills as a researcher, writer and critical thinker,” Rivers said. “That solid foundation prepared me to excel in the rigorous environment of a top-level national research university.”

Larry’s parents watched proudly as he received his doctoral hood and crossed the stage. His mother, Betty H. Rivers, formerly worked in administrative positions for the City of Tallahassee and finished her career as business services manager for the Tallahassee Regional Airport. His father, Larry E. Rivers, taught history at FAMU and served as dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. He is now the president of Fort Valley State University. Larry also has one younger brother, Linjé, who is a legal counsel for the Florida Department of Financial Services.

“Vanderbilt provided me with many phenomenal educational experiences,” Rivers said. “Not only did this institution give me an opportunity to work with leading national experts in the field of African American religion, it also permitted me to study with living legends of the struggle for educational equality and civil rights.”

One of those “living legends” was former FAMU President Frederick S. Humphries, who served as a Distinguished Visiting Research Professor at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College in 2007-2008. Another was the Rev. James M. Lawson, Jr., a Distinguished Visiting University Professor who was one of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s lieutenants during the Civil Rights Movement.

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