Dr. Bernice A. King, the CEO of The King Center and youngest child of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., shared her take on her father’s call to non-violent change-making before a packed crowd at Washington and Lee’s Keller Theatre Sunday night.
She delivered the keynote address for the week-long event, “Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr,” which featured visiting speakers, movie screenings, and other activities.
Executive Committee President Mason Grist, ’18, helped introduce King, and shared with the audience that in 1961, the Board of Trustees denied a request by students and faculty for the Martin Luther King Jr. to speak at Washington and Lee.
Over 50 years later, his daughter delivered his message, with modern applicability, to an eager audience of Lexington and W&L community members.
“The legacy of Dr. King calls for us to operate from a higher plane, to be ready to be open, to be willing to listen, to understand that we are a part of a human family,” King said.
Her speech called upon all citizens to acknowledge America’s racist history and work on policies for equality for the good of all people. She said humanity has a responsibility to channel compassion for others at the simplest human level.
“We cannot be apathetic in this hour. We cannot be indifferent in this hour,” she said. “Our silence is complicity.”
King encouraged everyone to play a role in instigating change. She especially urged students and faculty to examine Washington and Lee’s own history and think progressively about the future, including the continued reverence of W&L’s namesakes.
“We need to have a conversation about the context of the name. And so tonight, I want to continue to challenge you, because I understand you are wrestling with your past,” she said.
Grist echoed King’s sentiments following the event.
“We as students need to take courage and not worry about who doesn’t want to get on board with student activism and try to bring about racial equality,” he said.
Garrett Clinton, ’20, a member of the Xi Delta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, also spoke at the event. He expressed his admiration for King’s nonviolent teachings and the importance of following them to attain social progress first and foremost at Washington and Lee.
“We are in a day and age in which we cannot afford to be ignorant on a surface level. We cannot be afraid to dig deep within on issues,” Clinton said.
Many points in King’s speech resonated with the audience, prompting exclamations of approval, especially when King emphasized the dual needs of inspiring individuals while also making tangible political progress, saying, “we need to be working on hearts, and we need to be working on policy.”
Dr. King ended her speech with the notion that the universe is calling this generation to make its contribution to the freedom struggle.
“I want to challenge you as a daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., who now stands on the grounds of the final remains of the one who stood against racial equality…that you turn a new leaf,” she said. “That from this very university you start a revolution that will impact and influence universities and colleges across this nation.”