A message of peace for a turbulent time

Speech: Coretta Scott King said her husband's philosophy of nonviolence should not be forgotten in the post-Sept. 11 world.

January 12, 2002|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Coretta Scott King told a crowd of several hundred people at a Johns Hopkins Hospital auditorium yesterday that even in times of terrorism they should practice her late husband's philosophy of nonviolence.

King's speech at Turner Auditorium began Baltimore's celebration of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. She told the standing-room-only audience that a military response alone to the events of Sept. 11 might "sow seeds of a new generation of terrorists."

"We are the nation that must lead the way to multinational and multiracial unity," King said.

In her address, she urged the crowd of university officials, hospital staff, faculty, students and patients to "separate the evil deed from the evildoer" and to reject revenge.

"The best revenge is that not taken," she said.

Linking troubles abroad to domestic problems, she suggested it was a good time for the United States to reduce its consumption of oil by investing in mass transit systems. She also rallied behind canceling the debt of Third World nations, saying the burden placed on developing countries was unjust.

King praised all manner of hospital employees, from sanitation to kitchen workers, and said that health care should be equally available to all Americans.

She said her husband, who won the Nobel Peace Prize, "was not just an eloquent visionary, but a man of action. He said, `You don't need to study Plato and Aristotle to serve.'" A renewed season of service, she said, can be seen in the framework of the "beloved community," a favorite phrase of her husband's.

King, a soprano in her youth, spoke in a melodious voice that hushed her audience. She recalled a memorable pilgrimage she and her husband made to India in 1959 to learn more about Mahatma Gandhi's work. Gandhi ended British rule in India without firing a shot, she reminded the gathering.

Shortly after her husband's death, King founded the Atlanta-based Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. The center is part of a national park that includes her husband's childhood home.

Yesterday's appearance was a rare one for King. It came about through a family friendship with Dr. Levi Watkins Jr., a Hopkins heart surgeon. Watkins knew the Kings as a boy growing up in Montgomery, Ala. He also was a member of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King was pastor. Before yesterday's speech, he introduced Coretta Scott King to Mayor Martin O'Malley.

"They had a wonderful exchange, and she was very happy to hear about the parade," Watkins said, referring to the city's Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration. A parade is planned for Jan. 21.

Also yesterday, seven people were presented with the Hopkins Martin Luther King Jr. Community Service awards. The recipients are: Clarence Booker, Jr., a counselor; Linda M. Dunn, a patient information coordinator; Christine Gilliard, a teacher in Early Head Start; Kay Glisan, a facilities services manager; Loretta I. Hoepfner, an administrative supervisor; Gary R. Novak, a research associate; and Chirag B. Patel, a graduate student.

Many in the audience were too young to remember King's husband, who was assassinated in April 1968. Carla Rae Gunn, 22, a lab technician, said her grandfather attended the March on Washington in 1963, where the civil rights leader delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech.

Daniele Peters, 25, a medical student, said yesterday's event, which included the Unified Voices gospel choir, was "overwhelming and uplifting." She said the struggles led by Martin Luther King Jr. and others opened her way to medical school.

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