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'Revolution of values' needed, Mrs. King says

Coretta Scott King, addressing MIT's 20th annual celebration of her husband's life and legacy on Friday, Feb. 11, called for a national "revolution of values," deplored anti-Semitism, and commended MIT for announcing the establishment of a campus race-relations committee and a professorship to honor its first African-American graduate-Robert R. Taylor, class of 1892.

"But I must tell you," she said to leaders of the university as she addressed an audience of about 1,000 in Kresge Auditorium, "you have not done enough-and you are not alone in that." Many universities could do more to bring underrepresented people into their ranks, she said.

MIT President Charles M. Vest, in remarks before his introduction of Mrs. King, announced that the Institute had established the Robert R. Taylor Professorship. The chair "will stand both as a reminder and an instrument of MIT's commitment to diversity," Dr. Vest said. Robert Taylor, a distinguished architect, designed most of the buildings at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.


Provost Mark S. Wrighton, MIT's chief academic officer, said the Institute initiated the chair using unrestricted university resources "as a tangible sign of our commitment to this professorship and the purposes to be fulfilled by its holders."

Dr. Vest also announced that he has appointed a group of 13, chaired by Associate Provost Ellen Harris, as a committee on campus race relations. The group will "catalyze activities, enhance communications and networking and administer a modest grants program to support innovative ideas from the community on ways to further harmonious race relations," Dr. Vest said.

Mrs. King, who received a standing ovation when she first appeared on stage, and another, longer ovation when Dr. Vest introduced her, said that only a revolution of values will reverse the tide of homelessness, hatred and fear in America. Current values, she said, are rooted too deeply in materialism. "We must put people first," she said.

In deploring "recent expressions of anti-Semitism," which she said was as "reprehensible as racism," Mrs. King did not mention the Nation of Islam or its leaders who have been at the center of a recent controversy over remarks widely condemned as anti-Semitic.

Mrs. King was the main speaker at the annual celebration at MIT that began 11 years before Martin Luther King Jr. Day became a national holiday. She was invited to address the theme: "The Movement for Economic and Social Justice: 1994 and Beyond," which was selected by the Martin Luther King Jr. Planning Committee at MIT. The theme was well chosen, she said, because it reflects the twin goals of her husband, who was assassinated in 1968.

Despite the falling snow, Mrs. King and Dr. Vest led a symbolic march-people walked four abreast, as in the marches led by Dr. King-from the Lobby at MIT's main entrance across Massachusetts Avenue to Kresge. There, Andrew C. Humphrey, a second year graduate student from Wheaton, MD, served as master of ceremonies.


A stirring part of the program were remarks by three students who spoke briefly on what Dr. King's life and legacy meant to them. They were Joshua Montout, a senior at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School, LaShaun J. Berrien, a sophomore in materials science and engineering from San Diego, and Joshua A. Joseph Jr., a graduate student in civil and environmental engineering, from Boston. Mr. Montout, comparing today's pervasive violence with Dr. King's time when, he said, it was easier to "identify the enemy," regretted that the common parting words, "See you tomorrow," cannot be uttered lightly by youth today. Ms. Berrien said she contemplated for some time what words to say about Dr. King, but eventually concluded: "I am words enough. I am a young, black, female engineer at MIT" and it is because of Dr. King that she can say that. Mr. Joseph, who focused on Dr. King's mission of reaching out to all people, said, "I missed the life, but thank God I got the legacy."

Pamela W. Ambush, a lecturer in music and theater arts, gave a vocal presentation before Mrs. King's speech and Herbie King, a jazz drummer, closed the program with a drum solo inspired by the words of Dr. King.

Earlier on Friday, Mrs. King was the guest at a breakfast hosted by Dr. Vest and his wife, Rebecca M. Vest. Among those attending were MIT President Emeritus Jerome B. Wiesner, long a friend of Mrs. King's; Cambridge Mayor Kenneth Reeves; and members of the Martin Luther King Planning Committee. The cochairmen of the committee, Professors Leo Osgood of the Department of Athletics and Michael S. Feld of the Department of Physics, made brief remarks.

In his breakfast invocation, the Rev. Scott Paradise, Episcopal chaplain at MIT, said that "for all our good intentions and generous efforts we have made little progress toward racial equality on this campus." and he prayed that "we may find this [Coretta Scott King's presence] an occasion to lift our sights and see more clearly what we must do. May we draw inspiration from the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. and once again commit ourselves to challenge entrenched privilege and habits of timidity, lethargy and self-interest."


Activities in Lobby 7, organized by Associate Dean of Students Arnold R. Henderson Jr., also were part of the MLK observance.

Remarks there by Prashant Doshi, president of the Interfraternity Council, reflected the underlying theme. Mr. Doshi said he spoke not as the IFC president, but "as a brother and as a concerned member of our common community. I am here to ask you, to ask you all to put aside the differences and stereotypes, to let go of the past, and lay down your mental guns. I ask you all to stop thinking so much, stop analyzing and interpreting as this institution has so taught us. Our minds are always so busy, so tense. But for once, forget all of this, and resist becoming a subject of the mind. Let us all stand as we are, strong in some ways, weak in others, just as we have been created."

Others taking part in the Lobby 7 activities were Kesaya Noda, Office of Minority Education; Ophira Segal, president, Hillel Foundation; Sheldon Myrie, chair, Black Student Union's Political Committee; Ruben Morfin-Ramirez, assistant director, Office of Minority Education; Assistant Dean Ayida Mthembu, Student Assistance Services, and Linda Lifsey-Hughes, Graduate School Office, who played a flute selection.

The new Robert Taylor Professorship, announced first at the breakfast and later during the Kresge program, "will honor in perpetuity the memory of an illustrious alumnus." Dr. Vest said. "This professorship will stand both as a reminder and an instrument of MIT's commitment to diversity. It will provide yet another way for the Institute and for a distinguished faculty member. to contribute to the enhancement of our institutional excellence and to the advancement of diversity on the campus."

"I believe that we are making some progress," the MIT president said. "And I think it is fair to say that the modest gains that have been made here in the academy and elsewhere can trace their roots to the courageous advocacy of civil rights leaders such as Dr. King, and now, Coretta Scott King. Some battles have been won, but much remains to be done."

Dr. Vest said it was "particularly appropriate for Mrs. King to be here this year, just a month after some 2,000 African American women came together at MIT for a three-day conference titled "Black Women in the Academy: Defending Our Name."

".There is no question that the conference served as a challenge to all of us in higher education to increase the numbers of our black faculty members, both men and women, and to recognize and deal with issues of race in our scholarly lives and in our communities," the MIT president went on.

"At MIT, the challenge is clear. We can now see the changing face of America mirrored in our undergraduate students. It is not a perfect reflection, to be sure, but we are moving in the right direction. the mirror begins to cloud, however, when it comes to graduate students and staff. And the glass is frankly distorted when it comes to faculty."

Dr. Vest said MIT is beginning to see results from a faculty recruitment program started three years ago. "Over this period, we have successfully recruited 11 men and women of color to the faculty. That may not sound like much, but it is progress."

A version of this article appeared in the February 16, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 38, Number 23).

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