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Syracuse University marks 40th anniversary of visit by Martin Luther King Jr.
Syracuse University marks 40th anniversary of visit byMartin Luther King Jr.January 13, 2005Michele Barrettmibarret@syr.edu
Forty years ago this year, Martin Luther King Jr. began his presentation at Syracuse University with the words, “I feel honored and privileged to attend and address this meeting.” The honor was truly SU’s.
The sold-out Summer Sessions Banquet, held in the Sims Dining Hall on July 15, 1965, was attended by approximately 1,000 faculty members, students, staff and members of the Central New York community; guests included then-Mayor of Syracuse William Walsh and New York State Commissioner of Education James E. Allen. The event was sponsored by the Division of Summer Sessions and the School of Education.
The title of King’s speech was “The Time is Always Right to Do Right,” and SU has made the complete text of his remarks available online at http://students.syr.edu/osvp/drkingvisit.html. He used the appearance to forward the theme introduced in his book, “Why We Can’t Wait,” in which he wrote:
“Whole generations have been left behind as the majority of the population advanced. These lost generations have never learned basic social skills on a functional level-the skills of reading, writing, arithmetic; of applying for jobs; or exercising the rights of citizenship, including the right to vote.”
In his speech, King advocated for a Bill of Rights for the disadvantaged-white and African American alike-to help them overcome the lack of education and social skills. In a news conference prior to his talk, amid discussion of his plans for demonstrations in Chicago, Philadelphia and New York City against de facto school segregation, King also praised “good work and great support [that] Syracuse ministers gave in Selma,” (Alabama) where a group of Syracuse-area clergy had participated in a freedom march led by King.
During his appearance at SU, King was introduced by Charles V. Willie, who was then the research associate at SU’s Youth Development Center. Willie was the grandson of slaves and the first African American professor at SU; he went on to become the first vice president of the Division of Student Affairs at SU and is now the Charles William Elliot Professor of Education Emeritus at the Harvard University School of Education. He is honored annually by the Division of Student Affairs with the Charles V. Willie Distinguished Lecture. Willie and King were classmates at Morehouse College in Atlanta from 1944-48, and Willie served as host during King’s stay and escorted him to SU from Hancock Airport.
The 1965 banquet was King’s second visit to SU; in 1961, he gave a talk at a similar Summer Sessions Banquet on the topic of “Facing the Challenge of a New World.” Banquets were held annually to bring to faculty and students a prominent speaker with a timely and challenging topic.
“It is incredibly noteworthy for us to recognize and remember that Dr. King visited Syracuse University on two occasions during his lifetime,” says Barry L. Wells, senior vice president and dean of student affairs. “This is a historical footnote that our community should take great pride in as we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this month.”
For more information on SU’s celebration of King’s legacy, contact Kelly Homan Rodoski at (315) 443-3784.