Coretta Scott King, the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., gave a lecture on the civil rights movement to hundreds of students at the University of San Diego Wednesday, but she sidestepped the controversy over the naming of the San Diego Convention Center after the slain civil rights leader.
King, whose lecture was “Perspectives of Civil Rights,” said she doesn’t know much about the issue and she tries to stay out of decisions made by local communities with regard to honoring King.
“I’m not . . . informed about the specific issue. . . . Every city has its own way” of honoring King, she told a reporter. “A lot depends upon . . . people within the community.”
King added that she doesn’t like “getting involved with those kind of local situations. There are so many people who always try to pull me into them.
“If we truly believe Dr. King made this nation a better nation, . . . citizens of good will want to do--in their own way--the proper thing to recognize that.”
Nearly 800 students filled the Camino Hall auditorium to hear King’s talk, sponsored by the USD’s Associated Students, Faculty Social Issues Committee, and Women’s Program.
Still Gets Death Threats
“The average one of you (students) is 19 to 20 years of age; that means you were not born, or being born, or just born when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated almost 20 years ago,” King told the students. “Unless you’ve had the opportunity to learn about the civil rights movement and the history of the African American struggle in this country, it is pretty foreign and alien to you, particularly here in the West.”
King, who said that, after 30 years, she still gets death threats, reminisced about the desegregation effort in Alabama and the suffering of those committed to nonviolent demonstration. “We kept the faith in the American dream. Somewhere we read about this idea of democracy. . . . Somewhere, we got this notion that all men are created equal.”
King emphasized that changes in America’s society have been made through the “suffering and sacrifices of individuals, black and white, American people of good will of all races.”
Although “clearly we’ve come a long way since the days of the civil rights movement,” King cited injustices that still pervade our society, such as the fact that black college graduates earn less than white high school graduates, that racial conflicts have arisen on school campuses and the lack of blacks in key governmental positions.
“We’ve come a long way in bringing people an awareness to what he stood for: principles of nonviolence, human rights, an example of human dignity and decency. He taught how to love unconditionally. That’s important in a world context. . . . We have to understand and respect and appreciate people who are different from ourselves. That is what we really say America is all about. It is a home for all of God’s children.”
King emphasized in her lecture that the principles of nonviolence can still work in the 1990s, and have recently been applied in the Philippines and in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. “Nonviolence, when practiced . . . really works,” she said.
King, who noted that Wednesday was also International Women’s Day, spoke on behalf of women’s rights, and encouraged women to be leaders in a “bold, new vision” of a more peaceful world. “Women must be a moral vanguard for a more compassionate, humanitarian world community,” she said.
She also spoke Wednesday night on “Black-Jewish Relations: Conflict or Healing?” at Congregation Beth El in La Jolla.
Councilman Wes Pratt, who attended the USD lecture, said he was not disappointed that King refused to jump into the fray on the naming of the convention center. “This is a local issue, and it’s up to the local community to recognize the contributions of Martin Luther King,” Pratt said.
Pratt said he intends to move that the issue be sent back to the Port District for a vote. “They begged the question; they should have voted it up or down, they dragged this thing out and offended a significant amount of people with the process.”