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Author: There's much left to do for downtrodden

February 24, 2006|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

SHIPPENSBURG, PA.

bonnieb@herald-mail.com

A figure as historically meaningful as Martin Luther King Jr. surpasses language, according to acclaimed author and professor Toni Morrison.

The 1993 Nobel Prize winner addressed about 1,000 people Thursday night in the H. Ric Luhrs Performing Arts Center at Shippensburg University.

"His courage, achievements and high moral plateau are truly rare," Morrison said. "Being good, smart and brave at the same time would sink me."

Morrison spoke at the university's Gifted Minority Scholarship benefit program.

Wearing her hair in long gray dreadlocks partially covered with a scarf, Morrison entered the stage to sustained applause.

An advocate for the disadvantaged and formerly a senior editor at Random House, Morrison spoke of immigrants, the poor and others who work for low wages.

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"When we can't get the immigrants (for low-paying jobs), we go where they are - outsourcing."

Before Morrison's speech, Shippensburg interim president G.F. "Jody" Harpster called for a moment of silence to honor Coretta Scott King, whom he described as "a woman of resolve and conviction and of dreams yet to be realized." King spoke at the 1995 Gifted Minority Scholarship Benefit Dinner.

Morrison, who was born in Ohio in 1931, said it's shocking for her to think about Dr. King's accomplishments.

"He hadn't reached 40 when he was killed. He was 15 when he enrolled in college, 18 when he was ordained, 25 when he took over a pastorate, 26 when he finished his doctorate and led the Montgomery boycott. I think what kind of a person I was at 15, 18 and 25."

Morrison said that whatever the issue - housing, education, citizenship, voting rights or health care - "the real subject is what to do with and how to handle minorities. Martin Luther King called attention to the immorality of all forms of racism. This is the only country where people native to it are called 'minorities.'"

"There is hard, serious and ennobling work to do," Morrison added. "Step by step, you change the things that need changing. Fifty to 75 years from now, people might be stunned by things that are so common now. They may say, 'People actually had to work several jobs, save and pay for their own education? Did you ask them to pay for air, too? Illness incurred huge personal debt? Whole families lived in tunnels or cardboard boxes or on the street?'

"Or maybe not," Morrison continued, "(if) those generations descended from you, taught by you, inspired by you, will have forged a world worthy of you."

Morrison, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, explores the experience of black women in a racist culture in her novels "Sula," "Song of Solomon," "Tar Baby" and her 1988 Pulitzer Prize winner, "Beloved."

The annual program commemorates the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and raises funds for the university's Gifted Minority Scholarship Fund. The fund was started in 1983 to provide academically talented and financially deserving minority students with the opportunity to receive a quality educational experience. The endowment is now $422,000 and provides scholarships for 18 students.

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