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PBS' Gwen Ifill keynotes annual King dinner

Journalist also takes questions and signs new book earlier

"I learned how to cover race riots by telephone," begins Gwen Ifill's "The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama." She signed copies of the new book in the lobby of the Maxwell School of Citizenship on Sunday afternoon, between her afternoon talk and Q&A there and her keynote address that evening at Syracuse University's annual, sold-out Martin Luther King Dinner in the Carrier Dome.

"They didn't pay me enough at my first newspaper job to venture onto the grounds of South Boston High School when bricks were being thrown," she continued. "Instead, I would telephone the headmaster and ask him to relay to me the number of broken chairs in the cafeteria each day. A white colleague dispatched to the scene would fill in the details for me."

Since those days at the "Boston Herald-Journal," Ifill has gone on to reporting for the "Baltimore Evening Sun," "The Washington-Post," and to covering the White House for "The New York Times" and network television. In 1999 she went to PBS, where she's now managing editor of Friday night's "Washington Week" and senior correspondent for the nightly "News Hour with Jim Lehrer." You'll also see her sometimes on "Meet the Press" and last year she moderated the election campaign Vice-presidential debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin.

Random House approached her about writing the book, she related to the Maxwell audience of students, faculty and community members, because they thought he'd be the first Black president. Ifill punctuated her talk with a loud laugh.

"'Never happen!' I said. That's why I'm not a pundit. But my counterpunch was that I wanted to write about my generation, about the age. My parents marched, got new laws on the books, and raised kids in such a way that their children took them seriously."

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