The University Record, January 28, 1997

Martin Luther King III: Find a cause and commit to it

By Ryan Solomon
News and Information Services


Speaking Jan. 21 to a full audience at the Alumni Association, Martin Luther King III directed many of his comments to students, reminding them that all great movements, including the civil rights movement, began with a few good young people coming together to bring about change.

King said people tend to forget that his father, Martin Luther King Jr., was only 26 when he led the 1955 Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott. He said his father was also the youngest recipient of the Nobel Prize, which he won in 1964. King said the group of people that surrounded his father from 1955 to 1968 were all young. Georgia Congressman John Lewis was 25 when he led a march across the Selma, Ala., bridge to get the right to vote. Former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young was 24 when he became an aide to the elder King.

King said being denied the right to eat at lunch counters, the right to shop downtown and the right to ride on non-segregated buses were among the inequalities students protested. He said it is important that students understand the power they have and be reminded of those who came before them who changed the history of the country. Quoting his father, he noted, "If a man has not found something worth dying for, he is not fit to live."

King urged his audience to find a cause in 1997 that is worth committing to. He also told students they were blessed in receiving a college education, to thank those who made their education possible, and reach back and create opportunities for those who follow. King said his father reached back throughout his entire life to create opportunities for others.

King is the second child of four of Coretta Scott and Martin Luther King Jr. After leaving public office in 1993 as a former Fulton County, Ga., commissioner, King formed Leadership 2000, which is designed to develop leadership capabilities in young people. Throughout his talk he reminisced about his father, who would be 68 today.

King said his father would be disheartened and frustrated by the lack of progress made erasing what the civil rights leader called the triple evils of poverty, racism and violence. King predicts America's world leadership position will be limited because the nation has not resolved its racial problems. "America cannot continue to provide leadership in the world, or be the leader that it has been if we're not willing to relinquish our racial attitudes, or our sexual attitudes, or our discriminatory attitudes."

King also expressed his views on the backlash against affirmative action and the debate surrounding Ebonics.

He said affirmative action is still necessary to create a level playing field for everyone. King belongs to Americans United for Affirmative Action, a coalition working to counter the movement to dismantle affirmative action. King says the hope expressed in his father's 1963 "I Have A Dream" speech has not come true.

"One day he would hope that his four little children would live in a world where they would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. The key phrase is `one day.' The reality is that day, tragically, has not come yet. When that day comes, affirmative action should be thrown out of the window." In regard to Ebonics, or Black English, King said someone, or something, has failed Black children. He said his grandparents, who were not allowed to attend school beyond the sixth grade, made sure his mother knew how to speak the "King's English." He said that if 70 years ago his grandparents made the effort to see that his mother learned English, then there is no excuse for Black children today to accept anything less.

"It's important, maybe, for people who are teaching young people to know and understand Ebonics. But we can never allow young people to squander down into an inferior language which will not allow them to succeed."