Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to Dallas twice about love and nonviolence

Dr. King spoke at SMU's convocation in McFarlin Auditorium on March 17, 1966. – Photo courtesy of the SMU Archives/Southern Methodist University

 

By ROBYN H. JIMENEZ

The Dallas Examiner

 

During a time in which Dallas was still plagued by segregation and inequality, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was invited to speak at the Music Hall on Jan. 5, 1963 at 7 p.m., according to historic reports.

Minister Hallois Rhett James, a college professor, civil rights activist and the president of the NAACP-Dallas chapter, invited King to speak. James had organized several local civil rights protest and fought to eliminate poll taxes, according to the Texas State Historical Association. Standing in front of approximately 2,500 people at Fair Park, King talked about choosing love over hate while addressing injustice, segregation and voting rights in the city, according to the City of Dallas Office of Historic Preservation. James hoped that King’s words would inspire the Black community to choose love over hatred as they fought for their rights using non-violent means, reports indicated.

But as King spoke, segregationists had made bomb threats and there were incidents of White protestors with signs, chanting accusing King of being a communist and an agitator, the city archives noted.

 

MLK returns

In 1964, the Academic Committee of the Student Senate at Southern Methodist University invited King to speak on campus. However, when King arrived in Dallas, he was met by a group of African American clergy who pressured him to leave the city. The clergy were reportedly concerned about a repeat of his last appearance in 1963, according to a 1966 The SMU Campus article and archive reports.

Still, SMU students were not dissuaded. They continued to send requests through letters, phone calls, etc., urging King to return to Dallas to speak. In 1966, he agreed to return but wanted to make sure he didn’t get turned around again by members of his own community. The school’s president confirmed that the administration approved of King’s appearance.

King returned to Dallas on March 17, 1966 and spoke during a convocation at 3:30 p.m. in the McFarlin Auditorium at SMU. The 2,400-capacity auditorium overflowed with students, faculty and other staff.

King talked about the future of integration and said that his most asked question as he journeyed across the nation was probably, “Are we making any real progress in race relations?” The response to the poignant and desperate question on the lips of thousands and millions of people all over this nation, was neither negative or positive answer, but a realistic one.

“I would say that we have come a long, long way in our struggle to make justice a reality for all men, but we have a long, long way to go before the problem is solved,” he offered.

To illustrate how far the nation had come, he went back to 1916, when the first slaves were brought to America. He offered a quick glimpse of how life for Negroes had slowly progressed, though they were still segregated and not treated equally. He said that at some point it seemed that Negroes had given up on living in a just society, until the life of African Americans began to evolve through progressive literacy and more industrial jobs.

“All of these forces conjoined to cause the Negro to take a new look at himself. Negro masses all over began to re-evaluate themselves. The Negro came to feel that he was somebody,” the civil rights leader recounted. “His religion revealed to him that God loves all of his children and that all men are made in his image and that the basic thing about a man is not his specificity but his fundamentalness, not the texture of his hair or the color of his skin but his eternal dignity and worth. So the Negro can now consciously cry out with the eloquent cohort; African looks and Black complexion cannot forfeit nature’s claim. Skin may differ, but affection dwells in black and white the same.”

He went back and forth in time, comparing the tragedies of the past to the hard ships of his time – highlighting the progress that had been made, but moreover, he talked about the work that still needed to be accomplished. He also spoke about how legislation played a major role in obtaining equality and a just society.

“It may be true that you can’t legislate integration, but you can legislate desegregation. It may be true that morality can’t be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It may be that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important also,” he explained.

He then talked about the importance of African Americans being elected to local offices as a way to ensure change. He also discussed the nonviolent method of protesting.

“There’s another thing about this method,” he said. “When it is true to its nature, it says that it is possible to live true to the love effort. In other words, the love effort stands at the center. Now I want you to understand me here when I speak about love. People ask me all the time, what in the world are you talking about? You certainly can’t be telling us to love these people who are oppressing us and who are killing our children and who are bombing our churches. And I always have to stop and try to explain what I mean when I talk about love in this context.”

King said he wasn’t talking about emotional bonds or affectionate feelings. He would not “urge oppressed people to love their violent oppressors in an affectionate sense.” He said there were various types of love according to the Greek language: éros, philía and agápe.

“Agape is more than romantic or aesthetic love. Agape is more than friendship. Agape is understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill for all men. Theologians would say that it is an overflowing love that is the love of God operating in the human heart. When one rises to love on this level, he loves every man not because he likes him, not because his ways appeal to him, but because God loves him, and he rises to the level of loving the person who does the evil deed by hating the deed the person does. I think this is what Jesus meant when he said to love your enemies. And I’m so happy he didn’t say to like your enemies. I must confess that there are some people pretty difficult to like. But Jesus said love them, and love is greater than like. Love is understanding, creative goodwill for all men. When you stand up against the evil system and yet understand the perpetrator of that evil system.”

King spoke about resisting bitterness and the desire to retaliate, as well as praying for those who stand against them.

“And I close with a personal faith, and that is the glowing faith in the future that I believe somehow we will solve this problem, however difficult, however much opposition we have,” King concluded. “Our goal is freedom, and somehow our destiny is tied up with the destiny of America. And I believe we are going to get to that goal of freedom because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny …

“With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain the slab of stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discourse of our nation into a beautiful, sensitive brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children all over this nation, Black men and White men, Protestants and Catholics, Jews and Gentiles, will be able to join hands and sing the words of the old Negro spiritual ‘Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty we are free at last.’”

 

Making history modern

The evening was uplifting and inspiring for many. Though like most historic events, it faded in time without anyone to safeguard its legacy. It may have remained a hidden gem if not for a conversation about the SMU visit that sparked the interested of a local college professor, Clarence Glover.

“Dr. Willis Tate during my time at SMU shared with me that Dr. King had spoken at SMU,” Glover recalled. “I told him I was told like most in the African American community that Dr. King was turned away from Dallas by African American ministers.”

He said Tate, who came to SMU in 1945 and became the school’s president in1954, told him there was a tape in the university’s archives. Glover looked through the archives and found the university’s news coverage.

“I first found the Daily Campus articles of Dr. King’s speech. I had them framed and they are now in the Multicultural Affairs Office,” he said. “I then found Dr. King’s speech in the De Golyer Archives.”

However, when Glover found the tapes that held the speech, they were not in a useable format, according to Gosnell, university archivist who works with the history of SMU.

“It was originally on a reel-to-reel tape, because that’s how it was back in the ’60s,” she explained. “And he made sure it was transferred to cassette tape, which it is now is on the website.”

She also stated that, as with many archives, the collection are submitted from various sources, then archived in the basement. Though not many people want to look through dozens of boxes to get the information they’re looking for. Glover, however, was able to find the various forms of information and have them formatted so they could be displayed online.

This was a huge step for the university, which was then able to safely house the historic information for many years, but not able to provide it in an accessible form to the public, according to Gosnell, who explained that she – like many other historians – knew that King came to Dallas, but didn’t realize so much of the public was unaware of the visit.

“I think what Clarence was instrumental in, after he learned about that in the ’70s, was starting to get the MLK – and this is before even the holiday happened – was making sure it wasn’t forgotten,” she declared.

Having been a part of King’s journey, SMU now host an annual Unity Walk lead by Tate during its Dream Week commemorating King’s life and works.

“Without Clarence and the work he did, we would have never had the MLK walks,” Gosnell stated.

Glover was proud to have been able to help make the information available on a broader scale. Since its inception, more donors have contributed additional videos and other documentation to the university’s website. He now hopes more people visit the site, https://www.smu.edu/aboutsmu/mlk, to listen to the recording of King’s speech and be uplifted and inspired. A speech, that Glover fe

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