From the archives: Martin Luther King Jr. speaks at K-State

Martin Luther King Jr. walks with K-State president James McCain. The civil rights icon spoke at a convocation in Ahearn Field House on Jan. 19, 1968. (Photo Courtesy of Morse Department of Special Collections, Kansas State University Libraries)

Editor’s note: This story, which has been edited, was originally published in the Collegian on Jan. 19, 1968, after Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at Kansas State just two and a half months before his assassination. We are republishing it today in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

By Sandy Dalrymple and Tom Palmer

Martin Luther King Jr. today stressed the “long, long way to go” in the struggle for civil rights.

King attempted to answer the “desperate question, whether there has been any real progress in the Negro revolution.” He spoke about the history of the struggle and the future solutions to approximately 7,200 people in Ahearn Field House.

“I try to present a realistic position,” King said. “There have been significant strides for racial justice — but we have a long, long way to go.”

He mentioned the “new Negro — ready to sacrifice to be free.” There were two turning points in the revolution — legal and psychological. But even with all the progress, he said, “we can’t end here.”

“No area of our country can boast a clean hand in the realm of brotherhood,” King said. He spoke of racial prejudice in the legal system in Mississippi, of the “burn the church of your choice” attitudes of some in the South and the “underemployment of Negroes everywhere.”

“There is another kind of murder,” he said. King explained the psychological sense of murder — “They work everyday, long and hard, but they make so little they can’t function in the mainstream of our economic life.”

“The Negro often sees life as a corridor without exits,” he said. King presented the “facts of Negro history — but to stop here with these developments is to wrap our progress in a package of superficiality.”

King mentioned the civil rights movement bill of 1964, voting rights of 1965 and the student movements — part of the civil rights process.

“When the students sit down, they are standing up for the best American dream,” he said.

The intrinsic worth of the Negro is something that even the Negro did not realize for many years, he said. “When Negroes first appeared in the United States in 1619, they were a thing to be used — not persons to be respected.”

The legal turning point came in 1954, “when the Supreme Court pronounced the segregation laws constitutionally dead.”

King said, though he believes in nonviolent methods of exposing moral defenses is most effective in fighting segregation, he could not condemn violence without also recognizing the intolerable conditions that create it.

“America has failed to hear the plight of the Negro, and he is calling for attention,” King said. “As long as justice is postponed, we will be on the verge of social disruption.”

At first, King said, some supporters were doing the right thing for the wrong reason, or because of hate rather than for the equal rights cause.

“The problem of eradicating slums will be more complex than getting into a lunch counter,” he said.

The Johnson administration, he said, is concentrating on winning an unjust, ill-conceived war in Vietnam instead of one on poverty.