Feb. 14, 2016
Martin Luther King III was born into a world of sharp racial divides in which being disrespected and threatened were everyday facts of life for black Americans. Despite the work of his father, King said many of the underlying problems that plagued 20th century America remain today.
“It doesn’t mean we haven’t made progress. It just means we still have progress to achieve,” he said to more than 400 people Monday at Murray State.
King spoke at the 12th Presidential Lecture in the historic Lovett Auditorium. After an introduction with several mentions of his activism, a standing ovation welcomed King to the stage.
One key theme throughout his speech was the realization that there is still work to be done. He said he believes that America is a great nation with great people, but there is too much focus on the elements that divide instead figuring out how to work together for a better America and a better world.
“The greatness of America is the fact that anyone could come to our shores and fulfill a dream and make a contribution to our society. That’s really who we are,” King said.
As a member of the Black Student Council, Jarred Frazier, senior from Paducah, Kentucky, was invited to meet King at a private reception before the lecture.
Frazier said he came to be a part of history.
“It was great to shake his hand, to see history in living form,” he said.
Emphasizing the importance of history, King began his speech by explaining the significance of the bus boycotts that began in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. After 361 days without any African American passengers, the buses became desegregated. He called Rosa Parks “the heroine of that drama” and his father “its chief spokesperson.”
“It was the tenacity of individuals who said, ‘I would rather walk in dignity than ride in shame,’” King said.
The bus boycotts became Freedom Rides in the early 1960s. These movements were initiated by students to desegregate public transportation nationwide. The violence these students, and many others, experienced included several bombings across the south.
“Today we are all concerned about terrorism and we should be very focused on it, but how do we address it?” King said. “But terrorism has been around for a long time. That was domestic terrorism for African Americans in 1963.”
King also spoke to the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He asked why states have consequently passed laws creating ID provisions that might make it difficult for citizens to vote in the coming election.
“We should all be concerned about that. In fact, we should make it easier to vote, not more difficult to vote,” King said.
After his speech, the audience asked questions, many of which tackled heavy topics including the LGBT and Black Lives Matter movements. King answered each with words of love and hope for the future.
But the question that garnered the loudest applause was one of local concern. A student named Evelyn asked if King would consider signing a petition to stop the university budget cuts proposed by Gov. Matt Bevin in January.
King called this a “no brainer,” laughing and asking if she even needed an answer.
The strength of students can be surprising and they should try to be as engaged as they were in the ’60s, he said.