Mrs. King, stepping down, sees hope


ATLANTA -- In what is likely to be her last annual "State of the Dream" speech, Coretta Scott King, widow of the civil rights leader, scanned the international horizon yesterday and said she saw some reasons for hope as well as reasons to redouble the efforts to build the "beloved community of Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream."

Late last year, the 67-year-old founder of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change announced that she was stepping down as chairwoman and chief executive officer of the nonprofit, educational organization, which plans the official annual observance of the King holiday. Taking over for her will be Dexter Scott King, 33, the youngest son among the four King children.

Speaking to nearly 400 people gathered at Ebenezer Baptist Church on the 10th annual observance of the King holiday to mark what would have been the civil rights leader's 66th birthday, Mrs. King said she saw reasons for hope as crises abated in such places as Rwanda, Haiti and parts of the Middle East, even though violent civil strife still raged in such places as Nigeria, Bosnia and Russia.

"The most positive development for the state of the dream worldwide since we last met has been the establishment of a great new democracy in South Africa," she said.

Domestically, she said that political leaders seemed focused on budget deficits when the nation had a serious "compassion deficit." Nevertheless, Mrs. King said, she was optimistic about the future as she left the King Center leadership to do some writing about her life after the assassination of her husband and to pursue some "long overdue" musical projects that would put her conservatory training as a singer to use.

"I am leaving this ship of hope in good hands," she said of her son.

Since taking over last month, Dexter King has mostly been involved in a very public dispute with the National Park Service over control of a key site in the King Historic District here and the right to construct a major memorial to his father.

Only oblique mention was made of that dispute yesterday as some who have been critical of the King Center in the dispute, including Rep. John Lewis of Georgia and Mayor Bill Campbell, sat on the dais alongside King family members for the official observance of the holiday.

In a voice that was strikingly reminiscent of the cadence, inflections and distinctive phrasing of his father, Dexter King said that his father was part of American history and "belonged to everyone spiritually." But his family was the guardian of his legacy until his dream was fulfilled.

"My father delivered political freedom and I would like to deliver economic freedom," said Mr. King, sketching out one of the goals that he said the King Center was likely to pursue under his leadership.

"Had his life not been cut short, I believe economic empowerment would have been the next step and the King Center should be the catalyst in that goal," he said. "I'm calling home all those freedom fighters who marched with my father. Dexter Scott King is going to be there with you this time, and we will make it to the promised land."

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