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MLK’s 1962 visit highlighted in long-forgotten photographs

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

Duderstadt explained that King’s advocating for students to go against unjust federal laws might have created some tension at the University in 1962.

“There apparently was a controversy because in his speech, King suggested the importance of civil disobedience, and I guess a couple of the (University) regents raised concerns about that,” Duderstadt said. “It was almost exactly 50 years ago, and it was a time when Martin Luther King was a pretty controversial person. The FBI was tracking him and so forth.”

According to a 1962-1963 President’s Report to the Board of Regents, King delivered his address twice to a “filled audience” in Hill Auditorium. The event was organized through the University’s Office of Religious Affairs and the Michigan Union Special Projects Committee.

Since finding the negatives, Erdody said he and others at the Bentley have been working to identify the students and individuals surrounding King in the series of photos, as well as locating the areas where he held his discussion and attended a dinner at the University. Erdody noted this has been a challenging task because of how much time has passed since the event.

“The first thing we wanted to do (after finding the photos) was find out as much more about this as possible,” Erdody said. “But this was 50 years ago to this year.”

Erdody said he believes the photos of King interacting with attendees occurred after one of King’s two speeches in Hill Auditorium. Duderstadt noted the lack of diversity of the crowd in the images.

“The composition of the group of people that he was talking to at Hill Auditorium did not reflect a strong participation by people of color, which is characteristic of the University at that time,” Duderstadt said. “The fact that (the event) was in Hill Auditorium … it must have been an event that attracted a significant crowd.”

In the Nov. 6, 1962 issue of the Daily where King’s speech was discussed, former President of the Michigan Union and senior Robert Finke published a viewpoint regarding the University’s involvement with the United States National Student Association. According to the Nov. 8, 1962 editorial in the Daily, King advocated for such involvement during his speech at Hill Auditorium.

Finke wrote in an e-mail interview that he does not remember attending King’s appearance on campus, but he assumes he attended due to his position as President of the Michigan Union. He added that the University community in the early 1960s supported King, and he assumes King was respected during his visit to campus.

“Honestly, I don’t recall any specifics of the event. I recall some events in that time frame, but not this one. It was consistent with Michigan’s openness and importance for MLK to come and speak at the University,” Finke wrote. “MLK was an important figure at the time and was regarded as such by most in the University community, I believe.”

King’s appearance at the University was also noted in the 1963 Michiganesian Yearbook, which included a photograph of King speaking at Hill Auditorium that was not among the negatives. University President Mary Sue Coleman also alluded to King’s visit to the University in her 2008 address at Hill Auditorium during the Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium.

According to the Symposium’s website, King was serving as the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference when he visited the University for his speech. The event on campus occurred about nine months before the historic March on Washington and delivered King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. King lived for six years after his visit to the University before being assassinated on April 4, 1968.

Finke added that he doesn’t believe the King event has been forgotten and that it adds to the rich history of significant speakers at the University.