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Archive for Saturday, August 28, 1993

S MESSAGE REMAINS POWERFUL

August 28, 1993

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Thirty years after Martin Luther King Jr. enthralled and inspired 200,000 marchers gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., with his historic speech, ``I Have a Dream,'' blacks of younger generations in Lawrence say they still feel the power of King's message.

Sarah Moore, a Kansas City, Kan., sophomore at Kansas University, said even though she had only heard recordings of the speech, she still admired King's eloquence and the strength with which he delivered his message.

``It's strong -- very strong,'' she said. ``I don't care what race you are, you're going to feel that.''

Not only is the power of the message still alive, Moore said, but the content is still as relevant today as 30 years ago.

``It still means a lot now, because there is still more work to do,'' she said. ``The dream isn't totally fulfilled.''

Dorothy Pennington agreed King's speech was still important today, not only because of its message of equality, but also because of its call for nonviolent protest. Pennington, a professor of African-American studies and communications at KU, was in high school when King made his famous speech.

``It's still a very, very universal message, I would say,'' she said. ``King was called the major proponent of nonviolence in this country. I think the issue of using violence versus nonviolence as a tactic is still important today.''

Pennington, who teaches a course in rhetoric of black Americans which includes a section on King's speeches, said her students usually responded strongly when they studied the passages in ``I Have a Dream.''

``They like the content and they like the structure,'' she said. ``They look at it as being one of King's landmark speeches.

``In my opinion, it was one among many great speeches he gave.''

Pennington recommended ``The Drum Major Instinct'' and ``The American Dream'' as other examples of King's most effective oratory.

Reginald Robinson, KU professor of law and former member of the Lawrence Housing and Human Relations Board, said he thought most people listening to King's speech today would be moved by the picture he painted of an America without color lines. In a telephone interview from his home in Arlington, Va., where Robinson is staying through December while he serves as a White House Fellow, he explained why he did not think all people today embraced King's assimilationist views.

``It's a vision that I don't think is as universally endorsed today as it was then,'' Robinson said. ``For a long time it was assumed that all minority groups supported those ideas.

``When I was growing up, there seemed to be an assumption that all black people had this color-blind vision of a totally integrated society, and it was white racists who were blocking that. Today I'm aware of segments of the minority population who favor separatism. There are people who have a view of racial isolation, and you don't have to be white to have that view.''

Pennington agreed that not all members of minority groups today supported King's views, but she cited other '60s civil rights leaders, such as Malcolm X, who disagreed with King's stance on peaceful protest and assimilation.

``It was debatable during his era, and it still is, but that was King's message,'' she said. ``He believed in the American dream, and he believed in the Declaration of Independence. King believed in the system.''

Pennington said she thought it was unfortunate that some young people were losing touch with the spirit of the March on Washington and King's speech.

Although she didn't know it, Pennington might have been talking about Kris Quarterman, a KU freshman from Topeka. Although he expressed admiration for the work King did and appreciation for the advancements he made for civil rights, Quarterman said he did not feel more inspired by ``I Have a Dream'' than by any other speech or event during the civil rights movement.

``Well, really, it's just like every history class to me, because I wasn't there,'' he said.

Robinson said it was important for young people to view events such as King's speech as part of what is happening today. He explained by drawing an analogy to the inspirational events of the more distant past such as Patrick Henry's 1775 call of ``Give me liberty or give me death.''

``The American Revolution is over, so it's one thing to look back on that and not feel a connection to it,'' he said. ``But the civil rights movement is not over yet. We have not achieved the goals of the movement in the way the goals of the rebellion of the Revolution have been achieved.

``It's still a moving speech when you hear it on the radio. People make a mistake by thinking of that as ancient history.''

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