While more than 1,000 Toledoans attended two celebrations yesterday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., State Rep. Jack Ford (D., Toledo) pointed to another event he felt the slain civil rights leader would have frowned upon.
Introducing a fellow state lawmaker, Rep. Peter Lawson Jones (D., Shaker Heights), during the MLK Breakfast at the University of Toledo, Mr. Ford, Ohio House minority leader, criticized the Junior League of Toledo for inviting former South African President F.W. de Klerk to speak at next week's Toledo After Hours.
Mr. de Klerk is credited with initiating the end of bans on black liberal movements, the release of political prisoners, and the drafting of a democratic constitution in South Africa. In 1993, he shared the Nobel Peace Prize with African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela, whom he freed after 27 years in prison.
Mr. Ford said, though, that Mr. de Klerk has never distanced himself from apartheid and only ended racial bans under mounting pressure from around the world.
“Only in Toledo that a week after Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday and just before Black History Month can you have someone speak who has never disavowed that he was a white supremacist,” Mr. Ford said. “He helped dismantle apartheid but only did it with two guns pointed at his head. One of the guns was the gun of public opinion and lost money, and the second was 33 million angry blacks.”
Becky Hartline, Junior League public relations chairman for Mr. de Klerk's engagement, said her group was not trying to ignite controversy by inviting the former South African president.
“We didn't do this to rattle any trees,” Ms. Hartline said. “This is not the reason we're doing this. He just happens to be an intriguing person many of our sponsors wanted to hear from. Some of them are on the fence about him. They wanted to know more about him.”
Jan Baker, Junior League president, issued the following statement:
“The Junior League of Toledo brings world leaders who our community wishes to hear. Our goal is to raise money for our seven projects. Since the inception of Toledo After Hours in 1989, the Junior League has returned close to $1 million to the Toledo community.”
Mr. Ford becomes the second African-American leader to speak out against Mr. de Klerk's visit.
Victor Goode, chairman of the Toledo NAACP's legal redress committee and a lawyer with Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, criticized the league in November for the invitation.
WilliAnn Moore, president of the NAACP Toledo branch, could not be reached for comment.