Bishop Desmond Tutu thanked the people of the United States on Monday night for “forcing” President Reagan to apply sanctions to South Africa “against his will.”
Addressing an overflow crowd at the Bonaventure at the end of the nation’s first observance of the birthday of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Tutu said he thanked God for the “inspiration” provided by King--and the American people for the pressures they brought on their government to take action against apartheid in South Africa.
“In 1984,” the South African clergyman said, “people would have called you crazy if you had said Congress would even be debating sanctions against South Africa by 1985.
“But because the people of this great country decided to demonstrate, the moral climate in this land has been transformed.
“The President has had his hand forced, and therefore applied sanctions against his wish.
“I say ‘Thank you,’ on behalf of millions.”
The Anglican bishop of Johannesburg, the recipient of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize, smiled quietly through the ensuing applause. Then, in apparent veiled reference to the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s claims that South African blacks do not support Tutu’s anti-apartheid stance, he added, “And I truly do speak for millions. . . . “
Tutu was introduced by Mayor Tom Bradley, who called him a “courageous, committed man, who has carved himself a niche in history.”
“With each generation,” the mayor said, “as one of our leaders lays down the banner of leadership, God gives us someone else to take his place.”
He saluted Tutu as a man who “belongs to the whole world as bishop of the universe.”
About 2,300 people paid $50 to $250 apiece to attend the dinner, which was sponsored by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference--the civil rights organization that King founded.
But 400 of the guests had to watch the whole thing on closed-circuit television. Conference officials explained that on Friday, the fire marshal had reduced the number of tables permitted in the hotel’s main ballroom by 25, thus making it necessary to relocate some guests in another dining room upstairs.
Tutu briefly visited the overflow diners before the ballroom ceremonies began, thanking them for their support. The dinner also honored Rep. Augustus F. Hawkins (D-Los Angeles), who received the Martin Luther King Award; actress Jane Fonda, who received the President’s Award; the First AME Church, which received the Prophetic Witness Award; Carnella Barners, former president of the Church Women United, who received the Rosa Parks Award, and actor Hal Williams, who was given the Drum Major Award, for their commitment to human rights through nonviolence
At a press conference prior to his speech, Tutu said he believes that King’s dream of equality can be achieved by all men--but not without a major struggle.
Prior to the emergence of the apartheid struggle in South Africa as an international issue, he said, the black community of the United States had become lulled into a sense of complacency.
“But now it has been galvanized again,” he said. “We are seeing that the dream is realizable, but it is not yet realized.”
Asked if he accepts a parallel between himself and King, who also won the Nobel Peace Prize, Tutu said he did not. “I have said I do not belong in the same league with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” he said. “I am not being falsely modest. He was an outstanding person who was an original thinker. He was a pacifist, which I am not. I am a peace-lover.”
Asked to elaborate on the differences between “pacifist” and “peace-lover,” Tutu replied that he believes that there are circumstances where violence can be justified.
“I believe,” he said, “that the strategy of nonviolence succeeds where there is a minimum moral standard.”
But he said no such standard exists in South Africa.
“Your struggle (for the rights of black people in the United States) was one for civil liberties guaranteed by your Constitution,” Tutu continued, “whereas in South Africa, we are fighting for basic human rights, where the Constitution is against the people. . . .”
Earlier in the day, Tutu received the Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Prize during ecumenical services at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga., where King was pastor.
King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, presented the prize--a medallion and a $1,000 check--and delivered a brief address in which she called Tutu a man who “speaks with the moral authority, courage and vision that distinguished Martin Luther King Jr.”
“Like Martin,” she said, “he (Tutu) repeatedly encourages black people--those who are denied fundamental human, civil and political rights--never to doubt that they one day will be free.”
In accepting the award, which has been presented annually since 1973 by Atlanta’s Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Tutu said he would receive it “on behalf of our people who, protesting peacefully against injustice and oppression . . . have been killed.”