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Spelman Students Talk About Coretta Scott King

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

One of the matriarchs of the civil rights movement, Coretta Scott King, is being remembered today at the Atlanta church where her husband once preached. The widow of Martin Luther King, Jr. will be laid to rest on Tuesday. Her death last week has led to discussions about the role of women in the civil rights movement. NPR's Kathy Lohr visited a class at historically black Spelman College in Atlanta led by Woman's Studies professor M. Bahati Kuumba.

KATHY LOHR reporting:

Students come up with a list of more than half a dozen specific activities that Coretta Scott King accomplished and Kuumba writes them on a big white board.

UNKNOWN FEMALE: We have establish a national holiday for his birthday.

LOHR: But most of the students admit that they don't know much about Mrs. King's life. Part of the problem, Kuumba tells them, is that women in the civil rights movement were not characterized as leaders apart from their husbands.

Professor M. BAHATI KUUMBA (Professor of Women's Studies, Spelman College, Atlanta): You know, what is leadership in essence? In essence it is setting an example.

Ms. TERAN KRENSHAW (Sophomore student, San Jose, California): She stood up and she wasn't silent.

LOHR: Teran Krenshaw is a sophomore from San Jose, California.

Ms. KRENSHAW: It is very easy to follow the quote unquote norm, because then you're not put down, you're not chastised. And she definitely took a challenge and she was not just an idol and a roll model for peace and change but she was someone that we all should be able to look at and just say, Hey, why can't I do that? And then realize that we can.

LOHR: Another question raised by the death of Mrs. King, Rosa Parks and other influential African Americans is whether there are any new leaders to replace them. These Spelman students believe there are lots of new leaders on the horizon and more could come from their own generation. Rather than looking to politicians or popular entertainers, Sarah Wooton(ph) says she considers her professors to be the true leaders.

Ms. SARAH WOOTON (Student): I think it's the people who are behind the scenes, who are not on TV, that have the most influence. Because we're in class every day with our professors, we're not talking to Nellie or talking to 50 Cent or something every day. I don't know who he is. But I know who my professor is, because she comes into the room, she tells me her life experiences, and I relate that to my self and to the things in history and what's going on today.

LOHR: Wooton says there are many more subtle dilemmas and racial issues confronting the black community today than in the 1960's making it more difficult for one emerging leader to speak on behalf of everyone. As members of the civil rights movement grow older, the students learning about them say they wish scholars would devote more time to documenting their lives before they die. Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Atlanta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kathy Lohr
Whether covering the manhunt and eventual capture of Eric Robert Rudolph in the mountains of North Carolina, the remnants of the Oklahoma City federal building with its twisted metal frame and shattered glass, flood-ravaged Midwestern communities, or the terrorist bombings across the country, including the blast that exploded in Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta, correspondent Kathy Lohr has been at the heart of stories all across the nation.