Sunday Morning News
Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. is Alive and WellAired January 16, 2000 - 8:05 a.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: As the nation prepares to observe the federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., we look at the legacy of the slain civil rights leader.
And joining us from Roanoke, Virginia this morning is civil rights activist, poet, author and Virginia Tech professor, Nikki Giovanni. Good morning.
NIKKI GIOVANNI, AUTHOR & POET: Good morning, Kyra.
PHILLIPS: What a pleasure to have you.
GIOVANNI: Oh, what a lovely story about Mrs. Phillips. Oh, it just makes your morning, doesn't it?
PHILLIPS: Listen, Nikki, let's start off with MLK, OK? If he was alive today, what do you think he would have to say to the white community and also to the black community?
GIOVANNI: Well, I think that Martin was about the beloved community and I think he would actually draw, though there have been some horrible things, I think he would draw a lot of joy and pleasure from the progress that we've made. When you look at 30 years, look at where we are and yeah, there are things that are wrong, but there are many, many things that are so right.
PHILLIPS: Some say he was a saint, some say let's remember him as a progressive activist. How would you describe him?
GIOVANNI: I like saint. Saint suits me. Yeah, what do you have to do to be a saint? You give your life making people change. I mean he did it. Give him credit.
PHILLIPS: A lot of people make the point you don't have to be a perfect person to make change.
GIOVANNI: You don't have to be a perfect person to be a saint, either, when you look at the saints we have. No, I think, you know, give Martin credit because he actually listened to a black woman. He listened to Rosa Parks when she said no and when Rosa said no, Martin said I can do that, I can handle that. And he stepped up.
I think that most people should listen to black women. So I think it's good. PHILLIPS: And when you think of MLK, would you say his soul is rested when you look around communities and the world today?
GIOVANNI: I would say that Martin has captured the imagination and the hopes in a way that very few people have. So, yeah, give him credit for that, too.
PHILLIPS: Do you see an MLK figure now, an MLK figure of the year 2000?
GIOVANNI: No. No, because I think that great people, great men and great women come around infrequently and I think that it's unfair, sort of like that old joke about this kid that made 1600 on the SAT and the white businessman said bring me three more and I'll send them all to college. You know, these are unusual people and Martin is an unusual man. You know, the rest of us play football or write a little poetry or a culture team or do what we can.
But we have to give credit to the greatness that's been among us and Martin was an exceptional man.
PHILLIPS: All right, let's talk about exceptional black students. You talk about empowering black students in your book "Racism 101," surviving predominantly white campuses and becoming leaders, knowing how to answer the questions that white students are going to ask them. Let's talk about that. You talk about representing yourself as an individual versus a race.
GIOVANNI: Yeah, I think that that's kind of important because when you start to become all black people it puts a pressure on you that's not there. And what you're trying to do is you're trying to sit down and eat lunch with your friends and somebody will come up and say things like why do all the black students eat together? Well, I say it all the time, but if we took every black student at Virginia Tech, for example, and spread them around at every table we'd run out of black students before we ran out of people eating and then they would have white kids eating by themselves. You get tired of that, you know? You do. You just get tired of it. And you know that we can do better.
I think, Kyra, that what we have to do is find something that we do together that is fun. One of the fun things we do together is we cheer. We at Virginia Tech cheer for our football and basketball team. I want us to find something to do in the arts together that we can come together and say let's just do this one thing that makes us happy this one day.
PHILLIPS: I guess I kind of call that your racism 101 theory because you emphasize that so much in the book. Is it working at Virginia Tech? Do you see it happening?
GIOVANNI: I like Tech and I think that we're moving along. I get a lot of support from -- my dean is so wonderful, Dean Bates (ph). Just think, he says, you know, you're really goofy and we enjoy having you around. I said well, thanks Bob. But I do, I love him for that. But what I'm trying to do is find a way to work together through the problems. You can't always work on the problems. Sometimes you have to work through them and that's what I'm hoping that somebody like me can help us do.
PHILLIPS: Well, you've been doing it for years and you continue to do it. Nikki Giovanni, thanks so much for being with us.
GIOVANNI: Oh, it's my pleasure. Thank you.
PHILLIPS: All right.
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