Martin Luther King Jr. Visits MSU
February 11, 1965
On Thursday, February 11, 1965, more than 4,000 students and community residents attended a campus visit and lecture by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. It was standing room only in the Auditorium, with the overflow crowd packed into the Fairchild Theater where they could hear the civil rights leader's speech.
King came to Michigan State University to kick off a fundraising drive for the All University Student Government-sponsored Student Education Program* (STEP).
The STEP program was the first all student-administered educational outreach program of its kind in the country. The STEP program involved sending student and faculty volunteers during the summer of 1965 to assist Rust College of Holly Springs, Mississippi. It evolved out of MSU students' desire to help others and gain educational experience.
The program focused on eight areas that emphasized improving education:
- Students in elementary and secondary schools in Holly Springs and Marshall County received outreach for the improvement of communications skills that incorporated drama, art, music, and recreational activities.
- A four-week program to enhance the reading skills of college bound high school upperclassmen was established.
- MSU faculty became summer term instructors at Rust College as well as lead seminars and workshops open to the college's faculty.
- MSU program members served on a research team to aid in the compilation of a Rust College history for the school's centennial in 1966.
- The Rust College library received aid in organizing and cataloguing its holdings.
- Computer programmers helped the business office reorganize itself and maintain the school's business files.
- Members of the Student Education Corps held a workshop to teach local participants how to maintain what was accomplished during the summer program.
- Miscellaneous programs providing art, music, drama, and recreational activities was developed as cooperative programs between the college and community.
King's speech was a fundraiser to help cover the costs for this project. When the tickets to the speech went on sale during the first days of February, the Nobel Peace Prize winner was in a Selma, Alabama jail because of his integration work in that city.
In his speech, King issued three challenges to the audience that must be met for people to survive. First, people must achieve a world brotherhood perspective. Second, the notion of superior and inferior races must be abolished. And last, massive action programs must be developed to rid the world of segregation.
King also called for new civil rights legislation to aid in the dissolution of discrimination problems in the South. He made particular reference to the Civil Rights Commission and MSU President John A. Hannah, who was appointed chairperson of the Civil Rights Commission in January 1957 by President Dwight Eisenhower, serving until September 1969.
In his speech, King underscored the recommendation of the Civil Rights Commission that federal registrars be used in the South, and urged that the commission's recommendations be adopted. Recommendations, he noted, that had been made long before.
On March 19, 1965, a little more than a month after King's visit, Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, president of Notre Dame University and member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, testified before Subcommittee No. 5 of the House Judiciary Committee on the commission's findings about voting rights in the South.
In his testimony, Hesburgh explained that in 1959 the commission found that "there were discriminatory denials of the right to vote in certain states. It recommended the establishment of Federal registrars to prevent such discrimination and three Commissioners recommended the abolition of literacy tests." The commission reiterated in 1961 and 1963 these findings and recommendations.
The work done by the commission on voting rights became the Title I section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
*Later known as Student Tutorial Education Program