Friday, May 20, 2022

Bringing Martin Luther King, Jr. to Dartmouth

A letter from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Gene Lyons about his recent visit to Dartmouth.
Martin Luther King III will be speaking on campus on May 23rd, so it’s a good time to reflect back to when his father spoke here, on the same date 60 years ago. Martin Luther King, Jr. lectured in Dartmouth Hall as part of the Great Issues Course, which brought in a variety of guest lecturers to speak on current world issues and was required for all seniors. On that day, King declared to his Dartmouth audience that segregation was “on its deathbed” and spoke on his methods for advancing racial justice. An overflow crowd gave King a standing ovation, and in a letter he wrote after the fact, he said he would “always remember the warm reception” he received.

A letter from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Fred Berthold canceling his speaking engagement at Dartmouth.
Before 1962, Dartmouth had been trying for five years to get King to come to campus. The first time he was invited to speak in the Great Issues course, in 1957, he declined because his schedule was full. He was invited again and agreed to speak at Dartmouth in May of 1960; however, in April, he sent a profusely apologetic letter explaining that on the day of his speaking engagement, he would have to be in an Alabama court fighting a “trumped up perjury charge concerning income tax.” The next attempt was scheduled for May of 1961, but the day before King was first scheduled to speak, the Freedom Riders were brutally attacked in Montgomery, Alabama, and he left Hanover the next morning to address the emergency. After this last disappointment, Professor Gene Lyons wrote to King again and extended an open invitation, allowing him to visit any date in the next academic year when “the situation in the South might permit,” with as few as ten days’ notice. This time, King was able to make his lecture as planned, and the seniors of the class of 1962 had a chance to hear from one of the most celebrated civil rights leaders in history.

To read the correspondence about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s visit to campus, come to Rauner and ask for DA-12, box 1387. 

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