Controversial civil rights leader to speak

The Rev. Al Sharpton, arguably the most outspoken and controversial figure in the modern civil rights movement, will appear at USF Thursday as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. celebrations. The event is part of the Tampa Black Heritage Festival’s weeklong celebrations for the fallen civil rights leader.Trevor Purcell, director for Africana Studies, said he supports Sharpton’s visit and believes that it will be positive for the university.

“Whether or not one agrees with his point of view, I think he should be welcomed to campus,” Purcell said. “What he has to say should be of interest to everyone.”

Purcell said the importance of Sharpton’s visit lies in that the university is providing a forum for a variety of opinions.

“I think it means (the university) is open to the acceptance of the diversity of ideas,” he said. “I think that at a time when we are in a controversial state at the moment with the dismissal of Al-Arian, (it is important).”

Sharpton lives in New York, where he founded and is the president for the National Action Network. During his civil rights career, Sharpton has been the leader of numerous marches and protests. Due to his colorful comments, he has been dubbed “Rev. Soundbite” and is both widely supported and criticized for his controversial views.

In addition to his involvement in events following Sept. 11, Sharpton recently made public his intentions to run for the presidency in 2004. Purcell said because of this, Sharpton’s views are of importance to everyone.

“(The Al-Arian incident) has caused a bit of controversy, and much of that surrounds the idea of freedom of speech,” Purcell said. “To have someone like Sharpton, to accept him to campus to express his ideas is important.”

Tracy Dace, chairman for the MLK Celebration Planning Committee, said the ability to attract a high-profile leader such as Sharpton to USF reflects well upon the university.

“(Sharpton’s visit) speaks to the caliber of celebration we plan here on campus,” Dace said. “It also speaks to the commitment the university has for the legacy of Dr. King and also for the neverending quest for justice for all.”

Dace said Sharpton’s message has a strong impact, and controversy surrounding him has risen from his message being viewed in different ways.

“His passion is dynamic,” Dace said. “When (people) see someone that believes in something, that attracts attention and support.”

The theme for Thursday’s celebration at which Sharpton will appear is MLK 2002: Lighting the Way for Peace. Dace said he feels that civil rights is a constant battle, and he hopes Sharpton’s visit will make a difference.

“If one person can be reached through his message, I think we’ve done our share of the work,” he said.

Thursday’s celebration will begin at 7 p.m. in the Special Events Center. The event is free to the public.

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