Morgan honors Wilder, Rowan

February 19, 1993|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Staff Writer

Gov. Lawrence Douglas Wilder of Virginia is named after two major 19th century African-American figures -- poet Paul Laurence Dunbar and abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

But yesterday, Mr. Wilder invoked the contributions not of his namesakes but of three recently deceased contemporaries to inspire a mostly student audience at Morgan State University.

Entrepreneur Reginald Lewis, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and tennis great Arthur Ashe -- all of whom died within the last month -- "accomplished what the greatest heroes of fiction could never approach," said the Democratic governor.

"All of us cannot be Reggie Lewises, Thurgood Marshalls or Arthur Ashes -- but all of us who have achieved, or would like to achieve, have the germ of greatness in us," he added.

Mr. Wilder, the nation's first elected black governor, was the keynote speaker at yesterday's Frederick Douglass Memorial Convocation, one of a series of monthly assemblies at Morgan honoring contributors to African-Amercian history and culture.

The program in the auditorium of the Murphy Fine Arts Center honored Mr. Wilder and writer Carl T. Rowan with Morgan's Distinguished Achievement Awards.

In accepting his award, Mr. Rowan, author of the just-published "Dream Makers, Dream Breakers: The World of Justice Thurgood Marshall," said that in the last years of his life, Mr. Marshall watched as conservatives on the Supreme Court "tried to wipe away much of his life's work."

"I must be dedicated -- and you youngsters must be dedicated -- to see that no one turns back the clock," Mr. Rowan said.

In his keynote speech, Mr. Wilder praised Mr. Lewis, the Baltimore-born entrepreneur who headed the country's largest black-owned business until shortly before his death Jan. 19, as "brilliant" and said he was "determined to show he could make it" despite those who said blacks could not succeed on Wall Street.

At the funeral of Justice Marshall, who died Jan. 24, a consistent theme in the eulogies was Mr. Marshall's "uncompromising principle and disdain for personal or material advancement," the governor said. "What Marshall proved, most of all, is that we must do our own thing," Mr. Wilder said. "Black people have always been the mainstay of the efforts for their own freedom."

The Feb. 6 death of Mr. Ashe, the tennis champion and human rights activist, "taught us once again of the power of steadfast will and pride," Mr. Wilder said.

"He had reasons to be bitter," he said of Mr. Ashe, a native of Richmond, Va., citing the hometown that "considered him second-class" and the expectations of those "who always wanted him as a symbol when he just wanted to be a man."

"But we'll always remember him as the composed athlete who did not berate the umpires even when they were clearly wrong," Mr. Wilder noted. "He understood just how unfair this world can ** be. And he used every fiber of his strength, on and off the court, to right the world's injustice."

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