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MLK’s 1962 visit highlighted in long-forgotten photographs

By Haley Goldberg, Daily News Editor
Published April 15, 2012

While the University has a long, visible history of honoring late civil rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Martin Luther King Jr., one of his visits to the University during the height of the civil rights movement has been overlooked — until now.

David Erdody, a digital curator at the Bentley Historical Library, discovered a series of 20 photo negatives in early January that feature King giving a speech and hosting a discussion at the University. These photographs, which have never been printed or published, depict King speaking and greeting a crowd at Hill Auditorium, attending a small discussion in the Michigan Union and having dinner at the University on Nov. 5, 1962.

In explaining the discovery of the photo negatives, Erdody said he’s known since his childhood that King often made trips to Detroit, but he always wondered if King ever made an appearance at the University.

“I worked for the University of Michigan for over 20 years — ever since King’s birthday has been a holiday — and I’ve never read of King coming to Ann Arbor,” Erdody said. “I figured if King ever came (here), we’d know about it in some way, and I never remembered ever seeing that.”

After Erdody began volunteering at the Bentley Historical Library last year, he said he used the Bentley’s resources and the support of the Bentley management team to search for the answer to his question.

“When King’s birthday approached in January, I was at the place that could definitively answer if he’s been here or not,” Erdody said. “And it didn’t take very much to be able to find.”

Erdody said a quick search in the Bentley’s archives revealed about 100 documents and archival material relating to King. While 99 of these results did not relate to a University visit by King, one result — the series of photo negatives — sparked Erdody’s curiosity. After examining and developing the negatives into photographs, Erdody said he discovered the exact evidence he was searching for.

“I was pretty sure that I had something very good here because my supervisor (Karen Jania), was standing with me, and she said she didn’t know anything about (the photos), and I talked to the director of the Bentley Library, (Francis Blouin), and he didn’t know (about the negatives),” Erdody said.

Searching for more information about the photos and King’s visit to campus, Erdody consulted former University President James Duderstadt after learning about his presentation on student activism on March 16 at the University.

Duderstadt, who joined the University staff six years after King’s visit to campus, said Erdody contacted him after he delivered the speech and showed him the images of King.

“All (Erdody) knew was that they were from some event in 1962, but he didn’t know what they were,” Duderstadt said. “(Erdody) brought (the pictures of King) over to me to see if I knew some people who had been around along enough to figure it out, and I checked with people … in the Central Administration, and they had no knowledge of it.”

Duderstadt then contacted Public Policy junior Joseph Lichterman, editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, who examined the 1962 issues of the newspaper. Lichterman discovered articles stating the date of King’s event and describing his speech.

The material in the Daily archives included an advertisement for the event, published on Nov. 4, 1962; an opinion piece, printed on Nov. 8, 1962; and two articles printed on Nov. 6, 1962 about King’s speech at Hill Auditorium — including an event cover and an article discussing issues surrounding King’s encouragement of civil disobedience, which he discussed in his informal talk at the Michigan Union.