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Hooks blasts president

By Prabhat Mehta

Delivering this year's Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Celebration keynote address, Benjamin L. Hooks, executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, blasted the civil rights records of current President George Bush and former President Ronald Reagan. Hooks delivered his address at Kresge Auditorium Friday afternoon.

Hooks felt Reagan was especially insincere about civil rights and contrasted him with former President Jimmy Carter, the last Democrat in the White House. When Carter was president, Hooks said he and Carter met regularly and on an informal basis. However, during the Reagan administration, Hooks said he was "in and out before I could turn my head."

When Bush took over, Hooks said he was confident that the NAACP would reestablish a close relationship with the White House. However, despite practically "begging" Bush, Hooks said he was unable to prevent him from vetoing the Civil Rights Act of 1990.

Hostility toward blacks and other minorities has been on the rise, Hooks said. He pointed out as examples the re-election campaign of Sen. Jesse Helms

(R-NC), who criticized affirmative action programs as reverse discrimination against whites; the popularity of Louisiana state legislator David Duke, a former member of the Klu Klux Klan whom Hooks described as a "psychopath"; and the apparent rise in racial tensions on college campuses.

Hooks also criticized recent decisions by the Supreme Court to limit job discrimination suits.

On the subject of affirmative action, Hooks said he makes "no excuse whatsoever" for his complete support. "It's high time we start bringing them in."

The work of conservative black scholars who have criticized affirmative action and government welfare programs also came under attack from Hooks. In their case, he said, a PhD stood for "phenomenal dunce."

However, while Hooks spoke out in favor of active government policies to aid minorities, he acknowledged that "there are some things we have to do for ourselves."

Hooks said he was particularly concerned about the rise in black-on-black violence in the inner cities and the problem of teenage pregnancy and single-parent homes.

In an apparent reference to recent discoveries of plagiarism in King's doctoral dissertation, Hooks said that King should be honored in spite of his faults. Other leaders whom Americans admire have also proven that they are susceptible to human weaknesses, Hooks said, so King's legacy as a civil rights leader need not be tarnished by his shortcomings.

Hooks closed his address by telling the audience to do four things: First, "close the gap" and build coalitions bridging race and class; second, end envy and jealousy; third, maintain a sense of pride; and fourth, have faith in God.

The theme of this year's King celebration was "linking the civil rights movement to MIT and Dr. King's dream: reality -- closing the gap." Activities in honor of the slain civil rights leader will continue this week, including ongoing programs for MIT's first Martin Luther King Jr. visiting scholar, Henry McBay, a retired professor of chemistry at Morehouse College.

McBay is being honored for his efforts as a teacher. At Morehouse, McBay helped 43 black students go on to get PhDs in chemistry. His students have included Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis Sullivan and Argonne National Laboratory Director Walter Massey, who has been nominated as the next director of the National Science Foundation.