1989 15th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration
On Behalf of Justice
Department of Mechanical Engineering
Institute commemorates King legacy
By Miguel Cantillo
The Institute commemorated the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. last Friday at noon in Kresge Auditorium.
Gregory Chisholm G, a PhD candidate in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and a candidate for the Jesuit priesthood, gave the keynote address to the audience of several hundred. President Paul E. Gray '54 also gave a speech at Kresge, amidst protest from a small group of demonstrators who came to protest racism at MIT.
Chisholm described the social situation at MIT and in the nation twenty years ago, and the civil rights movement's effect on the black community throughout the country.
The situation for black students at MIT was very different in 1965 from what it is now, as the faculty and student body was overwhelmingly composed by white males then, Chisholm said. Fifty-seven black students entered MIT that year, but only 25 of them graduated. Chisholm warned that racism is still felt at MIT now, and racial tension may rise in the future.
Chisholm believed that the problems of American minorities would not be overcome soon. In fact, the Supreme Court's recent ruling against affirmative action for contractors in Virginia poses a threat to the black community, Chisholm said.
The overall situation for the black community is not encouraging, according to Chisholm. The African-American community, he observed, is being scourged by crack, white "hate groups" and a disproportionate incidence of AIDS cases (25 percent of AIDS victims are black, while the black community represents only 12 percent of the American population). Even now, he added, there are more blacks in prisons than in colleges, and for every black making over $36,000, there are twelve below the poverty line. There has been some organized help, especially from churches, but it seemed to Chisholm that the "Melting Pot does not burn hot enough" in this country.
With respect to black college students, and in particular to MIT's black students, Chisholm challenged them to find an area in society where as educated African-Americans they can help their community.
Gray's address, which preceded Chisholm's, was marked by a few minutes of tense confrontation with the demonstrators, who numbered about nine. The demonstrators, some of whom were students, climbed onto the stage of Kresge when Gray walked to the lectern. They held posters aloft and occasionally interrupted Gray.
The audience, many of whom where members of minority groups, booed the protesters for interfering with the commemoration of King. Gray told the demonstrators that they should discuss their concerns with him personally later on, and be quiet during the program out of respect for King's memory. After Gray's speech, the demonstrators climbed off the stage and remained silent through Chisholm's speech.
Gray called for the termination of a "colonial attitude" at MIT. Equal opportunity should not be regarded as "doing a favor" to underrepresented minorities, but rather as an enriching process at the Institute, Gray said.
While the number of black undergraduate students has risen in the past year, the number of black faculty members has dropped 50 percent since the seventies, and the number of black graduate students has stalled, Gray acknowledged.
Derek Mayweather '91 and a group of Cambridge high school students also gave short addresses commenting on the legacy of Martin Luther King and on the threats to the black community.
The protesters who interrupted Gray call themselves the "February 10 Coalition," according to Shiva Ayyadurai G, a member of the coalition. The group contends that MIT has taken no effective measures to combat racism. They claim that financial aid has dropped in past years, and that MIT has dismissed committed administrators and faculty because of their involvement with the black community. The coalition has further charged that MIT Campus Police harass minorities, according to Ayyadurai.
Members of the group labeled the commemoration ceremony as a "hypocritical" action and a "farce," although many applauded Chisholm's address.
The Coalition demanded that the charges against Kevin Dickens be dropped. Dickens was declared persona non grata by MIT officials, and the coalition claims that this status was given out of racism from the campus police. The coalition advocates for the punishment of allegedly racist campus policemen, and for MIT divestment from shares in South African companies. Members of the february 10 coalition dubbed the commemoration ceremony as a "hypocritical" action and a "farce," although many applauded Chisholm's address.
King was inspired by the social gospel theology, which calls for passive resistance as a way to oppose unjust laws, Chisholm said.It was not enough for King to talk about love but also about justice, Chisholm added. Sadly, all the accomplishments of the civil rights movement were endangered by the Executive's Branch lack of enforcement of the civil liberty laws, Chisholm commented.
The group that chanted against Gray is called the "February 10 Coalition" and was formed to challenge Gray's anti-racist credentials. Shiva Ayyadurai, a member of the Coalition, said that it is composed of 30 to 40 students who want to denounce MIT's racist policies. This group contends that MIT has actually not taken any effective measure to stop racism. They claim that the financial aid has dropped in the past years, and that MIT has fired committed administrators like Mary Hope because of their involvement with the black community. MIT has also dismissed black faculty, such as Jim Gates (Math), Jim Young and Roscoe Giles (Physics), Phyliss Wallace (Managment),Emma Jackson (Poli Science) and others, said Ayyadurai.