Dream for a day
Celebration honors Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1967 visit to CSUS
“Nonviolence is, says King, still best for Negro” read the October 17, 1967, headline in The Sacramento Bee, one day after Martin Luther King Jr. spoke on “The Future of the Civil Rights Movement” at what was then called Sacramento State College.
Reporter George Williams quoted King telling 6,000 people gathered in the football stadium that civil disobedience was still “the most powerful weapon available to the black man in America,” that the rights’ movement had changed from seeking an end to legal segregation to seeking genuine equality, and that white society must rid itself of myths about black society and adopt laws to protect all citizens, even if some would forever believe in their hearts that minorities are inferior.
“Laws cannot make a man love me but they can restrain him from lynching me,” King said.
But many Bee readers never read that story, which was printed just six months before the civil-rights leader was slain. Williams’ report appeared on page C7 in only one of the three editions this town’s paper of record put out that day. The “slop” or “filler” page between the sports and classified-advertising sections otherwise contained death notices, wire-service stories and rewritten press releases.
Making the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner’s local appearance even more newsworthy was his having just come out publicly against the Vietnam War during the same California swing. Of course, had the story received the play it deserved, Bee readers may have been denied breaking coverage of changes in mail handling, Chamber of Commerce election results and the release of a man accused of placing beer-can rings in J Street parking meters.
Ironically, the impetus behind the grand “40th Anniversary Celebration of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Speech to Sacramento State” on Tuesday, October 16, is to clue in a whole new generation to MLK and his message.
“We were motivated to do this because I have a friend who is a teacher, and he said a lot of students, when they get around to Martin Luther King [Jr.] Day, have no idea who he is,” said one event organizer, Joe Gibson, incredulously. “It’s just a day off, and ‘I have a dream’ is just a slogan.”
By remembering that campus visit four decades ago, it’s hoped young and old Sacramentans will think about what they are doing locally—right now, today, in 2007—to make the King dream a reality. Finally.
He’s actually been a fixture on campus for years. There are yearly remembrances, prayer breakfasts and marches of atonement and reconciliation leading into Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and CSUS participates in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, which encourages equality through civic engagement. In 2004, the family of the late Wilson C. Riles, an educator and, when he was elected to the first of three terms as superintendent of the California Department of Education in 1970, one of the first African-Americans elected to statewide office, donated the university papers and archival materials that included one of the earliest known recorded interviews with King.
In 2002, CSUS celebrated the 35th anniversary of King’s ’67 visit, but nothing was gelling for the 40th when Gibson and a group of fellow friends who were once students, faculty or administrators stepped in. “We thought somebody would pick up on it,” Gibson said. “No one did. Someone must.”
Since King made equality and wiping out poverty his life’s dream, no celebrant will be turned away. “We established early on we would not make money off of it, that it would be free,” Gibson said. “It’s kind of the populist approach to putting this together. We are not raising any money other than what it will take to put this on. Anything over that would be inappropriate.”
Clayborne Carson of the Martin Luther King Jr. Papers Project joins faculty, students and community leaders for the panel discussion “Beyond Vietnam—Peace, Pious and the Poor,” from 12:15-1:45 p.m. National Public Radio/Fox News reporter Juan Williams is on a similar panel addressing “1967-1968: Before and After ‘Beyond Vietnam’—the Speech, the Media, Dr. King and the Future of the Civil Rights Movement,” from 2:15-3:45 p.m.
Carson and Williams return to deliver keynote speeches during the evening program, which includes performances by the CSUS Department of Theatre & Dance, Sacramento Metropolitan Community Choir, Sacramento Black Art of Dance and MLKJ Mass Choir. Irene West, the mother of 20th century philosopher Cornel West and namesake of Irene B. West Elementary School in Elk Grove, and Dennis Mangers, chairman of the anti-hate nonprofit Capital Unity Counsel, are emcees.
The most awe-inspiring attraction should be 86 seconds of color film television station KCRA shot that day, the only known recording of King’s visit.
“My suspicion is everyone’s mouths will be open,” Gibson said. “They’ll realize that’s Martin Luther King at Sac State.”