A crowd that swelled to over 300 people and filled the Kansas Union ballroom Saturday night heard Martin Luther King III speak about what has happened to the dream his slain father, Martin Luther King Jr., brought to America.
They also heard the younger King bluntly confront problems problems that still exist today, more than 20 years after his father died from an assassin's bullet in 1968 when he was 10.
King, the oldest son of Martin and Corretta Scott King, is now a county commissioner in Atlanta and a member of the board of directors of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change. He came to Lawrence as part of the fifth annual Martin Luther King Day celebration, sponsored by Lawrence Ecumenical Fellowship Inc.
In his talk, King did not pass over problems that persist in America, such as low educational standards, drug and alcohol abuse, and crime.
BUT, HE SAID, "I'm not a pessimist, I'm more of an optimist. I say we can achieve freedom and justice."
His talk touched on memories of his childhood. He said he was taught correctly by his parents not to react to personal attacks with violence. He remembered his father's advice one time in particular.
In school, he said, "I was called a `nigger.' But I felt sorry for the young man, I didn't personalize it. I said, `The word is Negro' and handed him a Webster's dictionary.
"He wanted me to hit him, but I did not stoop to his level."
Clapping from the audience interrupted King's speech a couple of times. For example, King drew applause when he said that "morally and spiritually, this nation is not moving in the right direction."
King blamed some of this on the way children are being raised.
King said his own mother was the family disciplinarian, and today he is glad she did not "spare the rod" while he was growing up.
"TODAY, I'M able to serve on the county commission because I had the basic foundations," he said. "What is happening with our children we're losing generation after generation."
King spoke of the need to work together, mentioning the example of the many groups that cooperated to put together the Martin Luther King Day celebration this weekend as an example of how it should be done.
"That's what Martin Luther King's dream was all about rich and poor working together to bring about change," he said.
Toward the end of his talk, he added, "All I'm saying is that we in America face a tough challenge. Martin Luther King laid us out a blueprint. He didn't just talk that talk, but he walked that walk."
Speeches by Judith Ramaley, Kansas University executive vice chancellor; State Sen. Wint Winter, R-Lawrence; and Nancy Hiebert, Douglas County Commissioner, preceeded King's talk.
RAMALEY USED material from Martin Luther King's speeches in her talk, saying that the civil rights leader "used friendship and understanding of others" to overcome "attacks from the forces of evil."
"Martin Luther King believed truth and justice will prevail," she said.
Both Winter and Hiebert touched on the the history of Kansas, which fought to join the Union as a free state, rather than a free state, and how it parallels in some ways Martin Luther King's struggle for civil right.
Hiebert also drew applause when she mentioned the honor that is due King's mother for keeping her husband's dream alive.
One of the biggest rounds of applause went to Kendra Jones, a student at Central Junior High School who read a tribute she had written to Dr. King.
"I WASN'T BORN when you made you speeches," she said. "But others can see the dream continue," she said.
Kendra then went on to list various problems that still exist, including apartheid in South Africa, drug problems and racial tension.
"But many of us are still working to make your dream a reality," she said.
The Martin Luther King Day celebration continues tonight with the Inspirational Gospel Voices joining choirs from several Lawrence churches at Central Junior High School, beginning at 6 p.m. On Monday, a commemoration service for Dr. King will be held at noon in the First Regular Missionary Baptist Church, 1646 Vt.