Yolanda King, the daughter of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., exhorted students to become involved in social issues and strongly condemned South Africa’s apartheid policy on a visit to the UC Irvine campus Tuesday.
King, 29, an actress and lecturer, met with students and gave a speech Tuesday night as part of the school’s commemoration of the anniversary of her father’s birthday, Jan. 15.
In a press conference, King insisted that concern of black leaders over foreign policy issues does not detract from domestic social problems.
“I cannot separate problems happening in South Africa with problems here,” she said. “I don’t think you can put too much emphasis on something as brutal and overt as South Africa.”
Recognition of Values
King said the importance of the holiday honoring her father’s birthday “is not that this is my father and people will praise and adore him, but because this country will finally recognize those values, those principles of peace and justice that he stood for.”
“He created a spirit in this country that caused people to feel, at least for a little while, that there was some hope that things could be better,” King said. “Needless to say, there was a percentage of the population that did not agree and thought things would be better if he were not around,” she said.
“But for the large majority of us he created a feeling and an attitude . . . that indeed we could be better than we were,” King said.
Speaking of the contemporary civil rights movement and its accomplishments, she said, “I think we are very much where my father left us.”
“There have been a number of gains, a number of, I think, token results,” she said. “But far too many people, both black and white, are still locked out of the system and don’t have the opportunity to reach toward those goals that many of us take for granted.”
Held Back by Apathy
King said that the apathy of young people today is one thing holding back the process of social change.
“For many young people in college today, that history of sacrifice and struggle that our parents and grandparents went through is just not there,” she said.
“You must continue to educate and talk to your fellow students. . . . Tell them this is the way it is, and you’re deluding yourself if you think it is not.”
King, whose father was shot to death in Memphis in 1968, is on the board of directors of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Social Change and co-directs a performing arts company, Nucleus, with Attallah Shabazz, eldest daughter of Malcolm X, the black nationalist leader who was assassinated in 1965.