James Earl Jones spoke to a standing-room crowd of more than 1,700 February 18 at the Givens Performing Arts Center on the campus of UNC Pembroke. The noted actor with one of the most recognizable voices in Americana, spoke of the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
Jones, who was part of UNCP's Distinguished Speaker Series, was welcomed with a standing ovation as he took stage to speak about one of the greatest influences in his life and career.
"He (King) wasn't dreaming for one color or race but for everyman who walks on this earth," Jones said.
The actor, who provided the voice for Darth Vader in "Star Wars" and Mufasa in the "Lion King," said the slain civil rights leader paved the way for black artists like him.
"Dr. King ignited change everywhere - even in the arts," he said. "He drew strength from great novelists."
Jones said King was influenced by thinkers including Poe, Shakespeare, Hitler, Thoreau and Lincoln, and he absorbed diverse ideas into his world view.
"King drew on universal ideas, "Jones said, "He knew ignorance is powerful, and that we must work together for social justice and equal opportunity for all races."
King challenged the audience to make a new life, "to take pride in your own identity, to see other's identities."
Jones said he was personally inspired by one of last semester's distinguished speakers, Henry Winkler, to start speaking on college campuses.
"It's another way of communicating, and this way I can serve society by speaking to college students," Jones said.
As an actor, Jones is known for his roles in movies such as "Clear and Present Danger," "Field of Dreams" and "Dr. Strangelove."
The actor tailored his lecture, in part, to the youthful audience. In the question and answer period that followed, he was asked by a teen how to become a great actor like James Earl Jones.
"Don't even try it," he said to a laughing crowd. "Don't try to be like me. There is a character in you that you owe the world. Try to find it."
The Distinguished Speaker Series continues March 11 with actress Rita Moreno and April 28 with Oklahoma basketball coach Kelvin Sampson.