Originally appeared on WKMS
The oldest son of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King says he thought the United States would be at a different juncture as a nation when it comes to civil rights in the 21st century. Martin Luther King III spoke at the Murray State University 12th Annual Presidential Lecture Series Monday night.
A nation more divided
King says reflecting over the past three to five years, he sees a nation more divided and not working collectively for the good of all Americans. The issues around police misconduct appear to grow, but he believes this is because technology has improved and people now have the ability to capture incidents that have been going on for a long time. The positive factor, he says, is that because these incidents are seen almost immediately society can demand something is done to address the issue.
60 years of integration at MSU
Murray State University is in the academic year marking the 60th anniversary of desegregation and integration on campus. King applauds the university’s efforts in acknowledging that integration occurred 60 years ago.
“The fact that every time an anniversary occurs we can look back and look at our progress. We can say, ‘We’ve made progress. Have we made enough progress?’ The answer may be yes or no. I would tend to say probably no but that doesn’t mean progress has not been made,” he says. Forward thinking is asking, “What do we want to look like 60 or 100 years from now?”
Social media as a civil rights tool
He says it’s remarkable that his father and his father’s team were able to organize communities to enact change without social media and imagines how much quicker and how many more would get involved had it been around in that time.
The example he uses is in Montgomery, after Rosa Parks had been arrested, for 381 days African Americans chose not to ride buses. This demonstration was largely organized by churches and mimeograph machines, he says. At the time, 60% of riders were African American. He wonders, though, if after 381 days when the city relented, was it really integration or economics?
“Ideally, I’m sure people came to the right position because it was the right thing to do. But that was certainly a contributing factor. If that level of technology existed that we have today,” he says, “…Perhaps movements could have happened quicker.”
He says of the movements that occur today, “It’s not just black lives, it may be black lives spearheading some of the demonstrations, but it’s people who see an injustice and want to do something in a non-violent way… and ultimately I believe it’s going to bring about appropriate changes in our nation.”
On historically black universities
Kentucky State University’s president warned Monday that Governor Matt Bevin’s proposed state budget cuts to higher education may threaten the existence of the historically African American institution, potentially forcing considerations on a pathway to closure.
King believes in the 21st century, historically black colleges and universities still have a significant role to play. If you look at 60% of black doctors, lawyers and other professionals, they come from these colleges and universities, he says.
“It’s not just a nurturing, but there’s an orientation that prepares. Because many of those students start off at historically African American institutions and then they go to majority institutions and do very well. But if they did not have the nurturing provided, the ‘fertilizing’ I would say, that occurs, then they may not necessarily succeed in majority institutions,” he says, adding that he doesn’t like the terms ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ because one implies superiority over the other, which implies ‘inferiority.’
2016 Presidential Race
The American people need to be engaged in governing, he says, hoping more people vote in this election than have voted before. King hopes leaders bring people together as opposed to a further divide. “We are a very divided nation now and it does not serve Americans well, it does not serve our nation well globally. Because we’ve got to work with partners all over the world even with those that we don’t agree with. so it doesn’t mean that you don’t take firm positions on principles, it just means that we’ve got to learn how to work together and not continue to shoot ourselves in the foot.”
King says this round of political campaigns are concerning, not resonating to show the best of who we are. “When ‘the best of America’ shows is when there is a crisis, when people are hurting, when there’s a tsunami, or when there’s a tornado or hurricane. People come and they are willing to help. Some send their resources because they may have money, some physically come a particular site… that’s the best of who America is,” he says. He adds that he doesn’t want constant crisis, but wants a nation to live in that frame of mind.
Lessons from his parents
King’s personal perspective as instilled by his parents is to have a love of self, family, community and God. When it comes to community he says, “If we truly had the kind of love that we should have for our communities, we would never accept poverty in America. Not in a nation that has an inordinate amount of wealth even with a very bad economy. There’s something wrong with a nation that has allowed so many people to live and work and grow in poverty.”
He says his father, grandfather and great-grandfather were Christian ministers. His father looked at Christianity slightly different than some, understanding that the world is comprised of many different religions and those who don’t believe in religion. You have to let your light shine, he says, be an example of what you manifest. He says his father had the philosophy that if a person was 90% bad, he would instead focus on the 10% of good inside that person and try to bring that out.
Programs initiated by King
Among numerous projects as a nonviolent civil rights activist, King initiated the King Summer Intern Program providing employment for high school students, Hoops for Health increasing public awareness of newborns suffering the effects of substance abuse and Call to Manhood uniting young African American males with positive adult role models. King is also the former President and CEO of the MLK Junior Center in Atlanta.
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