More than 37 years after his father addressed students there, Martin Luther King III visited Chapman University on Tuesday to call for the rebirth of student activism and the fight to eliminate the social ills that he said continue to plague the country almost 30 years after his father's death.
"There is a sense of consciousness that has been lost in the last 20 years," King said during a forum attended by about 70 people. As many as 1,000 people were expected to attend King's speech at Chapman's Memorial Hall in the evening.
"There seems to be a general apathy among students," he continued. "But things have changed. Because of technology we might not need to protest the way we once did, now that we have the Internet as a means of communication and expression."
King also spoke passionately about racism and affirmative action, saying that public school curricula need to be changed in order to eliminate prejudices.
"The study of history excludes minorities," he said. "We must change the curriculum to study all the ethnic groups that make up the history of this nation."
After the approval of Proposition 209, King co-founded Americans United for Affirmative Action, a coalition of organizations dedicated to defending affirmative action programs nationwide. The initiative, which passed in 1996, outlawed racial and gender preferences in state hiring and school admissions.
King said he took offense at Proposition 209 proponents holding up his father's vision of a colorblind society to validate the dismantling of affirmative action programs statewide.
"My father said, 'I have a dream that one day my four little children will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,' " King said. "Problem is, that day has not arrived yet. We still have a long way to go before we get there."
The former commissioner of Fulton County, Ga., King in November was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the group his father headed. He took office Jan. 15, his father's birthday.
King spoke as part of Chapman University's annual Distinguished Lecture Series. Past speakers have included former NAACP head Myrlie Evers-Williams and actor Edward James Olmos.
King, 40, also reacted to news that a former FBI agent said Tuesday that papers he took from James Earl Ray's car after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. support claims of a murder conspiracy.
Donald Wilson, who worked in the FBI's Atlanta office when King was killed in Memphis in 1968, said he found two pieces of paper with the name Rauol written on them. Ray contends he was set up by a man named Rauol.
"I'm not going to go into the conspiracy here because there's such a tiny chance that we'll get a new trial," he said. "I certainly hope that the whole truth will one day be revealed, and I hope that the American people will demand to know the truth. But I'm at peace, my family is at peace. I just hope we will all continue to be truth-seekers."
Chapman freshman Puja Chadha was excited by the opportunity to hear King speak.
"I always heard about Martin Luther King Jr. but never had a chance to learn about him in school," she said. "When I heard his son was going to be here, I just knew I had to come."