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Dennis Lehane apologizes for using racial slur in Emerson speech

Dennis Lehane gave the address Sunday at Emerson College’s commencement at Agganis Arena.

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Dennis Lehane gave the address Sunday at Emerson College’s commencement at Agganis Arena.

Author Dennis Lehane has apologized for using a racial slur during his commencement speech at Emerson College Sunday. Lehane, a Dorchester native best known for his novels “Mystic River” and “The Given Day,” used the N-word while talking about the protests in South Boston during the busing crisis of the 1970s.

“I will never forget this for the rest of my life. We were trapped in the back of a car,” Lehane told graduates. “We couldn’t move. We could just be buffeted down the street. And they had hung effigies of Arthur Garrity, who was a judge at the time, of Teddy Kennedy, and they were lighting them on fire with torches. And they were screaming, ‘N—s out.’”

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There were apparently complaints after the speech because Lehane issued a statement Monday morning apologizing for using the slur.

“The word is the most offensive word in the English language. To use it in the context of the times in which I was describing was to show exactly how ugly those times were and that particular night was,” Lehane said in a statement.

“If, in an attempt to convey that with absolute authenticity, I managed to offend, then I apologize to those who were offended. Hurting people with the use of that word, of all words, was about as far from my intention as one could get, but I take ownership of the result. I should have known better.”

Mark Shanahan can be reached at mark.shanahan@globe.com.
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