February 4, 2003

Sutton Speaks on Racism, Human Rights

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Dr. Ozell Sutton, civil rights leader, delivered the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Lecture in Anabel Taylor Hall yesterday evening. Approximately 60 people, including President Hunter R. Rawlings III, attended the event, which was sponsored by Cornell United Religious Work.


Dr. Sutton was involved in the famous desegregation of the high school in Little Rock, Arkansas, marched with Martin Luther King Jr. and worked for the U.S. Department of Justice. He was selected by Ebony magazine four times as one of the “100 Most Influential African-American Leaders.”

Dr. Sutton is also a past president of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, which was founded at Cornell.

In his lecture, Dr. Sutton addressed the problems that he felt were currently most prevalent and presented possible solutions.

“The world in which we live today is in the most critical condition that it has been in 2003 years,” Dr. Sutton said.

He cited the possibility of war, the current state of Afghanistan and the falling of the Columbia space shuttle as examples that “the security of our world is jeopardized.”

However, Dr. Sutton focused his lecture on what he described as the “oldest unsolved problem: racism.”

He stressed the importance of everyone coming together in order to overcome the United States’ lack of a functioning democracy.

Human Rights

Dr. Sutton centered his attention on his “Four B’s to be successful in human rights.”

His first B stood for Book, which symbolized education. “Every young person has the right to an education … We should see that they can get one without the $30,000 a year it takes to go to Cornell,” Dr. Sutton said.

Ballot, or political action, was next on his list. Dr. Sutton said that if more African-Americans made it to the polls, the U.S. would have a different administration.

His last two B’s were Buck, which represented the power of money, and Black History. Dr. Sutton stressed that African-Americans “must know about their heritage, because if they do, they can’t help but be inspired.”


In presenting this point, Dr. Sutton gave a brief history of the civil rights movement since the Civil War, including the development of African-American sororities and fraternities and significant court cases.

When he reached Martin Luther King Jr. in his timeline, he became quite emotional. Dr. Sutton explained that he was in the room next door to Dr. King at the time of the assassination.

“We need all of us to be involved because when we’re all involved, they can’t kill us in one shot,” Dr. Sutton said. He received a standing ovation from almost the entire audience after his lecture.

A question and answer session and an informal reception followed, during which Dr. Sutton signed copies of his book.

Student reactions varied.

“It reaffirmed that there’s still much work to be done and that every black individual must contribute,” Addisah Sherwood grad said.

Others were disappointed and felt that the lecture was not what they had expected.

“I thought it’d be more about his lifestyle,” Jordana Haber ’03 said.

Still others commented that Dr. Sutton served as an admirable role model.

Brighan Kiplinger ’03 said, “It’s inspiring to hear from one who has been down for that long and who is still fighting.”

Archived article by Amy Green