Speaker Encourages Activism in Presentation

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One of the first nine blacks to integrate Arkansas's schools spoke about women's activism yesterday at an exhibition opening.

Melba Beals spoke at the opening reception in the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union, entitled "Women as Activists: A Past, Present and Future," for a national touring exhibit on the life of Mary Backer Eddy, an activist in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Beals said when she first entered Little Rock, Arkansas's Central High School in 1957, she and the eight other black students faced many obstacles.

"Outrageous" mobs attacked them with bombs and guns, Beals said.

"(At that moment), I thought of what my grandmother told me," Beals said. "She said, 'God is as close to you as your skin.'"

Beals said her faith in herself and God has given her the strength to continue her activism and combat racial discrimination.

She also encouraged people to seek the same power within themselves to act in the world.

"Each of you sitting there is an activist," she said. "I've been shot at and there is no one outside you that can protect you. For you to count on anything else is a waste of time."

In addition to women's activism, Beals said people should not let fear dictate their lives.

"If you respond to hatred with hatred you're out," Beals said. "The day we have overcome is the day we pray for bin Laden and all of Al Qaeda. That's really the only way."

She also stated her opposition to aggression toward Iraq.

Students said Beals' approach to activism and her methods of combating racial discrimination were inspirational.

But some audience members said they were uncertain faith alone would change institutional structures of racism in the U.S as Beals had suggested.

"When it comes to overt racism I like her tactics not to let her energy be spent on negativity," said UC Berkeley freshman Jessica Schlesinger. "But when it comes to institutions, we can't turn our backs."

Rep. Barbara Lee's (D-Berkeley) assistant presented Beals with a congressional recognition certificate for the "impact" she made in peoples' lives at the beginning of Beals' speech.

Beals received the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1999 for her activism.

She has written three books, including "Warriors Don't Cry," a journal of her first year at the newly desegregated Central High School.

The event also included a presentation by Joni Overton-Jung, who spoke about the life and ideas of Eddy, a suffragette and founder of the Christian Science Monitor.

Like Beals, Eddy combined spirituality with activism.

"Eddy gives us a model for spiritual activism," Overton-Jung said. "Her life is the possibility of what spirituality can do for everyone's life."

Eddy was a prominent women's rights activist in the late 1800s who taught and wrote about the relationship between spirituality and individual activism in her book, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures."

In the suffragette's honor, Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean's assistant read a statement which declared Sept. 10 Mary Baker Eddy Remembrance Day in Berkeley.

The reception also opened a multimedia travelling exhibit, which includes videos news clippings and photographs of Eddy's life and accomplishments, will be on display on the third floor of Pauley Ballroom until Oct. 10.

The exhibit first opened in 1998 as part of series on "untold stories" at the Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, New York.

UC Berkeley's Women's Studies Department and the Writings of Mary Baker Eddy foundation sponsored yesterday's reception.


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