Remembering Martin Luther King's 1961 Visit to Dickinson
by Whitney Gordon
January 16, 2012
In spring 1961, a young preacher named Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to a capacity crowd at the Allison United Methodist Church as part of Dickinson's Representative American Preachers series. The student newspaper, The Dickinsonian, covered the historic speech by the future leader and symbol of the civil-rights movement in its April 14 issue:
Dr. King Lectures On 3 Dimensions Of Life To Capacity Chapel Crowd
Taking a passage from the New Testament Dr. King lectured on “The Dimensions of a Complete Life” to students who sat in aisles and stood in the rear of the capacity filled chapel in Allison Church to hear the famed speaker. “We must all learn to live together as brothers or perish as fools,” Martin Luther King, nationally famous Negro spiritual leader and proponent of integration, said in chapel on Tuesday. In 1957 Time Magazine selected Dr. King as one of the outstanding personalities of the year. He has received more than forty awards, citations, and honors since 1955 and is the author of “Stride Toward Freedom,” and numerous magazine articles.
Dr. King described the three dimensions of life as length, “a natural and healthy concern with oneself and goals,” breadth “an outward concern for the welfare of others,” and height, “a reaching for God.”
Reason for Today’s Problems
“Many of the problems in the south today are caused because men are too occupied with the first dimension, their own selfishness and political security, economic positions, and social status. If they would add breadth to length, the jangling discord would become an harmonious symphony,” he said.
He described segregation as a system concerned mainly with a particular group of people who believe in “white supremacy,” an idea that one particular race is better than others and responsible for all contributions to the world.
“All life is interrelated, and no nation today can live alone.” Dr. King referred to the starving masses in India, hundreds of thousands of which sleep in the streets each night, and asked, “Can we in America stand by and not be concerned?” Regarding the problem of surplus food storage, he said, “I know where we could store the food—in the wrinkled stomachs of starving people.” Dr. King decried the materialistic atheism brought about through industrialization and scientific discoveries. “In spite of new developments God is still around,” he said. “It is this faith which has guided me in the last few years. When people have asked how I can persist I answer, ‘The cause is right, and we have cosmic companionship.’ Thus we can walk and never get weary and this keeps us going.”
Dr. King on Tight Schedule
Dr. King was unable to remain for conferences or newspaper interviews because of a tight schedule. “During this period of transition and conflict in the South I find it necessary to restrict myself to short trips more than before,” he said. Doctor King has been prominent as president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, which led the protest against segregation seating in the buses of Montgomery, Alabama. He is the son of a Baptist minister, a graduate of Morehouse College and Crozer Theological Seminary, and has studied at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University. He received the degree of Doctor of Philosophy from Boston University and is the pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga.
In “Witnessing History,” in the winter 2009 issue of Dickinson Magazine, several alumni shared their memories of Dr. King’s visit. Woody Goldberg ’61 heard King that day and noted, “There was a message there that barriers can be broken down ... and it shows how Dickinson really was forward-looking and engaging the world in many ways.”