MLK

Berea College students and faculty traveled to Montgomery, Ala., in 1964 to participate in a voting rights march from Selma led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. They carried a banner with the college’s motto: “God hath made of one blood all nations of men.”

On March 31, 1968, five days before he was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been scheduled to speak at Berea College.

He postponed the engagement because of his involvement with the “Spring Mobilization” that the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was undertaking in Washington, D.C., on behalf of the nation’s poor, said the Rev. Donald Graham, who was then coordinator of religious activities for the college.

That work would take most of his time for the next three months, King wrote to Graham in mid-January of that year. King also had canceled several other speaking engagements, he told Graham, who now pastors the Kirksville Christian Church.

“Please consider this a postponement,” King said. “Feel free to invite me at a later date. I have always admired the great work and rich history of Berea College and have longed to visit it.”

While King was engaged in planning an on-going anti-poverty demonstration in Washington that was to be known as “Resurrection City,” he later became involved with supporting a strike by sanitation workers in Memphis.

King was felled by an assassin’s bullet the evening of April 4, 1968, as he stood on a Memphis motel balcony.

Four years before his death, several Berea faculty and students had joined Dr. King in a civil rights march that he led in Frankfort around the state capitol, according to “Berea College, An Illustrated History.”

In 1965, Dr. King announced plans to lead a voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., after a previous march was violently turned back by state troopers. However, Berea College administrators were reluctant to sanction participating by their faculty and students is that march, according to the institutional history written by college archivist Shannon Wilson.

“The Student Government Association did not endorse the march, and Dean Kenneth Thompson suggested that students write to their congressional representatives to express their views,” Wilson wrote.

The college also declined to provide vehicles for travel to Alabama and students were informed that their participation in the march would not excuse them from classes.

Led by a committee that included the student government association president and editor of the student newspaper, a group of about 100 Berea students protested the decision in front of college president’s Francis Hutchins’ home.

Hutchins told the protesters, “There can be no question about Berea College’s continuing commitment to the cause of human rights and human dignity. Some may differ as to methods and tactics, but the common goal remains the same.”

He then offered his own car for use in driving students to Alabama for the march, Shannon said.

Some 58 Bereans traveled to Alabama where they joined the marchers in Montgomery. The Bereans carried a banner with the college’s motto: “God hath made of one blood all nations of men.”

“They were cheered and jeered as they marched with thousands of others,” Shannon said.

Hutchins also labored in the face of mixed reactions in 1964 when he first granted and then denied a request by the National Council of Churches to train 600 workers who would be going to Mississippi to register black voters that summer.

Hutchins became concerned when he learned of violent attacks on civil rights workers in Mississippi. Berea alumni there also told him that the efforts of civil rights workers from other states were doing “more harm than good to the cause of blacks.”

The training session was conducted elsewhere, and three of the workers were murdered that summer in Mississippi. The investigation of their deaths was dramatized in the 1988 movie “Mississippi Burning.”

Bill Robinson can be reached at brobinson@richmondregister.com or at 623-1669, Ext. 267.

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