Coretta Scott King speaks on current events
By Greta Bradlee, Staff Writer
Coretta Scott King, a lifelong activist and the widow of civil rights leader the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., addressed the College community last night in Johnson Chapel. Her lecture was part of the College's Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration.

President Tom Gerety introduced Ms. King and also quoted her late husband's autobiography, "Staying with the Struggle": "My wife was always stronger than I was during the struggle."

Ms. King first discussed the significance of her husband's legacy. "Anytime you see a classroom with different colored students, that's Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legacy," she said. "Whenever you see African-American members of Congress passing laws, that's [his] legacy too."

Ms. King then explained how the civil rights movement paved the way for mass protests. She said that people from the anti-Vietnam war movement, the women's movement, people with disabilities and homosexuals have all credited King for inspiration and success. 

Too many people in the U.S. are overly concerned with material wealth, Ms. King said. In their "ruthless pursuit of money," these people disregard others. "Tonight," she said, "I want to challenge the students of Amherst College to choose the higher calling of creating altruism."

Ms. King told the audience that for her husband, racial integration was not just a political idea. He strongly believed in the "value of inclusiveness," and in people of different races "living together as brothers and sisters."

She also spoke about his commitment to nonviolence and how people must stay committed to opposing all forms of violence, including insults and hate speech.

"Something that really struck me about [Ms. King's] speech was how she said that violence didn't just pertain to your actions," said Mike Allison '04. "It is also through your spirit and your heart."

Ms. King said that the U.S. must do more to prevent violence and help the poor. She urged the audience to defend affirmative action, to fight for more affordable college tuition, to push to abolish the death penalty and to be "champions of universal health care."

"Full heath care for every person, for every sickness," said Ms. King. "Nothing else is acceptable for a nation as wealthy as ours."

Ms. King also said that America needs more just and humane policies towards impoverished people abroad. She told the audience it is estimated that 11 million children will die this year from preventable diseases. One major way these children can be saved is to cancel Africa's debt to the West, which totals 350 billion dollars in sub-Saharan Africa.

"I didn't say forgiving," Ms. King clarified. "We aren't asking for charity here. We are asking for long- overdue justice. America owes Africa far more than Africa owes America."

If America puts an end to this "shameful form of colonialism," Ms. King said that the impoverished nations will be able to use their own resources to address their heath care needs.

Ms. King also voiced her opposition to the war in Iraq, citing the importance of nonviolent demonstrations against it. "War is not the answer," she said. "Peace is not just the goal, it's the answer."

She quoted her husband, who, in 1967, said, "We must shift the arms race into a peace race."

"[Ms. King] hasn't lost any of her inspirational quality," said Dean of Students Ben Lieber, who saw her speak at the College in 1988. "It's wonderful to have different generations of students exposed to such an inspirational historical figure. It's wonderful of her to come back to Amherst after such a length of time to inspire new generations of students."

"I thought she was a really motivational speaker," said Amber Davis, a first-year student at Smith. "I liked how she said that our generation can't just focus on the dream aspect; we need to act on it, too."

After Ms. King finished speaking, the Gospel Choir performed a song and the Director of Mead Art Museum, Jill Meredith, presented her with "American Edge", a volume of photographs by Steve Schapiro '55. Many of the pictures chronicle the 1960s and the civil rights movement.

Issue 18, Submitted 2003-02-26 14:01:09