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King's work not done, say tribute speakers; Event celebrates diversity, calls for recommitment


More than 30 years after the death of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., one of the greatest challenges for the civil rights movement -- improving living standards -- still lies ahead, veteran social activist Julian Bond said yesterday.

"Many stand now in reflection of that earlier movement's successes, confused about what the next steps should be," said Bond, chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and college professor. "The task ahead is enormous -- equal if not greater than the job already done."

Bond spoke to about 500 attendees at the 16th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration at Johns Hopkins Hospital, a two-hour celebration that included speeches, song and prayer.

King would have been 70 years old Friday. His birthday is celebrated nationally Monday.

Bond talked about statistics comparing black and white children's livelihood to draw attention to where he believes the movement should go.

"In life chances, life expectancy, median income, by all the standards by which life is measured, black Americans see a deep gulf between the American dream and the reality of their lives."

He called on attendees to re-examine their view of the movement, saying it involved many more people than most remember. "For most of us, he [King] is little more than an image seen in grainy black-and-white television film taken in Washington three decades ago, the gifted preacher who had a dream," he said. "But King, of course, was much more than that, and the movement was much more than Martin Luther King."

Yesterday's event also touched on today's headlines, as Dr. Levi Watkins Jr., professor of cardiac surgery, associate dean at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and event founder, talked about why he feels blacks support President Clinton during the impeachment process.

"I think it is because of the lack of diversity of the conservative right that we see this buffoonery with Clinton. He is more tolerant of people different than himself," Watkins said. "It doesn't have to do with who touched what."

While yesterday's discussions branched off into current events, the consistent themes of the celebration were diversity and the power an individual can have on history.

Pub Date: 1/13/99

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