NEW JERSEY – “And he will realize that a doctrine of black supremacy is as dangerous as a doctrine of white supremacy, and that God is not interested merely in the freedom of black men, and brown men, and yellow men; but God is interested in the freedom of the whole human race and the creation of a society where men will live together as brothers, and every man will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. This is what the nonviolent discipline, when one takes it seriously, says. And so I am convinced that with all of these methods at work we will be able to move on into that new and great day and the American Dream will be a reality.”
These were the eloquent and immortal words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who wowed more than 5,000 almost 51 years ago on Feb. 5, 1964 in his speech, “The American Dream.”
While Dr. King has become known for speeches such as his,“Give Us the Ballot,” in Washington DC in 1957, “I Have a Dream,” from August of 1963 in Washington, DC, “How Long, Not Long” in 1965, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” in New York in 1967, and “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” – the last speech he delivered before he was murdered in April of 1968, there were some other profound speeches during his career that were not as known.
One of those speeches made the university circuit – at Syracuse University in 1961, at Stanford University in 1965, at St. Peter’s College in Jersey City in 1965, and this eloquent speech touched down in New Jersey at Drew University in Madison, NJ on the above date mentioned.
Dr. King’s visit to Drew University followed his selection as Time magazine’s “Man of the Year,” and he visited Drew as a convocation speaker. Dr. George D. Kelsey, a Professor of Christian Ethics at Drew mentored Dr. King at Morehouse College, where Dr. Kelsey later became his professor. Dr. Kelsey was the reason, Dr. King credited, that he decided to pursue his career in ministry – Dr. King pastored the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta with his father – the city where he also resided with his family.
The University eagerly announced Dr. King’s visit beginning on Jan. 23, 1964, in a series of press releases. He was lauded for his Presidency of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and non-violence in achieving full rights for African Americans (click here for the original release), including his March on Washington. He was also noted for his authorship, including his books Strength to Love and Stride Toward Freedom.
In the second release from Jan. 28, 1964, it is evident the University eagerly looked forward to Dr. King’s visit and spoke further about Dr. King’s stance in promoting peace while forwarding the cause of civil rights. A question and answer session following the lecture was also mentioned.
“But to most,” the Drew Acorn, the University’s paper wrote prior to his visit, “Martin Luther King is the symbol of the revolution of 1963 and the future, for the realization of the civil rights of all men, regardless of race.”
At the time before his arrival, the Madison Eagle stated the University was not certain what the topic of Dr. King’s speech would be.
Dr. King’s visit drew in 5,000, with 500 turned away due to the overcrowding, with many waiting more than two hours to enter. The audience poured into the University’s Baldwin Gymnasium and, according to a Feb. 13, 1964 Madison Eagle article covering the event, the crowd overflowed into five other locations – the Great Hall, the Student Center, two rooms beneath the gymnasium, and a site outdoors – where the speech was piped in.
The Madison Eagle described the reception before the speech as a “wild ovation.”
While Dr. King was warmly received at Drew University, according to the publication, there was additionally a small group of protestors from the Alert Americans Association placing pamphlets under car windshields.
“Judging from the orderly, polite local acceptance of Dr. King,” the Madison Eagle reported, “few took the pickets seriously. Most of the listeners,” the paper editorialized, “could be characterized as alert Americans.”
The Madison Eagle said the public credited the University for “making a significant contribution to the cultural needs of the growing area,” through the appearance of Dr. King as a speaker.
The Drew Acorn reported that Dr. King received three standing ovations during the evening and that he followed with a question and answer session, with questions focusing on the integration of schools and the school boycott in New York City, which he said had his full support.
In regard to the formation of prejudices, Dr. King told audience members that it was essential schools be integrated because biases began during the early school years.
On one of the index cards that the nearly 100 questions were submitted to Dr. King on, was not a question at all, but a testimonial that nine young boys offered, “The Condors Senior Hi-Y thinks you’re great, Dr. King!” The boys met with him following his question and answer session.
In addition to photographs, several which are featured courtesy of the Drew University Archives in this article, the University has provided a transcript of the entire speech online, as well as audio clips of it.
A reporter from the Drew Acorn aptly stated about King, “He is unimposing, seems quite ordinary, but when he speaks, people listen. They tend to forget all else.”
This statement is evident from the audio, which evidenced the attentiveness of the audience.
One of his many powerful statements follows on his quoting of the Declaration of Independence, referencing “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
“This is a dream,” Dr. King stated.
“Now one of the first things we notice about this dream is an amazing universalism,” Dr. King continued. “It does not say some men, it says all men. It does not say all white men it says all men, which includes black men. It doesn’t say all Protestants, but it says all men, which includes Catholics. It doesn’t say all Gentiles it says all men, which includes Jews. And that is something else at the center of the American Dream, which is one of the distinguishing points, one of the things that distinguishes it from other forms of government, particularly totalitarian systems. It says that each individual has certain basic rights that are neither derived from nor conferred by the state. They are gifts from the hands of the Almighty God. Very seldom if ever if in the history of the world has a socio-political document expressed in such profound eloquent and unequivocal language the dignity and the worth of human personality.”
“But ” Dr. King aptly noted, “ever since the Founding Fathers of our nation dreamed this dream, America has been something of a schizophrenic personality, tragically divided against herself. On one hand, we have proudly professed the great principles of democracy. On the other hand, we have sadly practiced the very antithesis of those principles. Indeed, slavery and racial segregation are strange paradoxes in the nation founded on the principle that all men are created equal.”
Though Dr. King’s visit to Drew University was captured in photographs and news clippings, the audio of his speech, “The American Dream” was missing for over 40 years, and thankfully, as reported by The Daily Record, was found. Dr. King’s snapshot in time with his audio, which in today’s day and age would have been recorded instantly with cell phones and memorialized in Tweets and on Facebook, returned to a simpler life when news was delivered slower with his articulacy about that era reflected, including the tragedy behind the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which also earned him an ovation, and his peaceful words of those who were his detractors looking to filibuster the Civil Rights efforts.
He inserted varying descriptions of the word “love” into his speech, from the Greek, including “agape.”
“Agape is understanding, creative, redemptive good will for all men,” he said. “It is an overflowing love that seeks nothing in return. Theologians would say that it is the love of God operating in the human heart.”
“Love your enemies,” was what Dr. King preached, adding he was glad that Jesus did not advocate, “like your enemies,” which he described “like” as an affection with sentimental qualities.
“Love is understanding, creative redemptive good will for all men,” Dr. King clarified. “And I seriously say that I think this can stand at the center of the nonviolent movement and help bring about the new America, the great America.”
Dr. King’s greatness and heart had other footings in New Jersey. In addition to the many streets, schools and other buildings that now carry his name, Dr. King spent time while he was a seminary student in Pennsylvania, in Camden during the time period of Sept. 1948 and May 1950 (click here for article). Dr. King, who may have had family that resided in the area, may have even received his boost in his Civil Rights work from an incident that occurred at Mary’s Café. The establishment was on Route 41 and Camden Pike in 1950 while Dr. King and a friend were refused service, though it was not allegedly based on the color of their skin, the tavern owner countered when a Civil Rights violation was filed against him. Ernest Nichols said he asked them to leave because it was after hours when Dr. King, his friend Walter R. McCall, and their dates Pearl E. Smith and Doris Wilson were refused service and Nichols in return fired a gun into the air outside of the café.
In Sept. 2014 NJ.com reported that the home where Dr. King stayed in Camden at 940 Newton Avenue, had become a destination for prostitution and drug use and was to be razed. Efforts are underway, per that report, to preserve the structure and refurbish it into a business incubator – and volunteers are seeking proof about Dr. King’s visits there to prevent its destruction.
Jersey City was one of the other cities where Dr. King visited. According to the City of Jersey City’s website (click here) Dr. King gave his “The American Dream” speech at St. Peter’s College on Sept. 21, 1965 – an institution which bestowed on him an honorary Doctor of Law.
The Hudson Dispatch reported the event on Sept. 23, 1965 (click here for transcript). At the college, where even a bomb threat did not deter Dr. King from speaking, Dr. King spoke about the “massive strides” made in Civil Rights Legislation, though he said that the North still needed to take action. He also gave his stance on the Vietnam War, and hopes to speak to the Viet Cong, Soviet and other leaders about it. Though he described Communist China as similar to a child “which wants attention and throws temper tantrums to get it,” Dr. King felt it important to still have dialogue with these nations and groups.
According to The Jersey Journal report from the same date, Dr. King also received a standing ovation and the college president, Rev. Victor R. Yanitelli told him, “We are proud to call you an alumnus of the college and brother.”
The St. Peter’s College Pauw Wow (click here) from Oct. 1 described Dr. King’s stance of a world with a “symphony of brotherhood. A world where all God’s children, white and black, Protestant and Catholic, Jew and Gentile, will be free at last.”
Dr. King’s final visit to New Jersey took place shortly before his assassination, with The Jersey Journal reporting a visit on Mar. 27, 1968 (the report was on Mar. 28) at the Metropolitan A.M.E. Zion Church.
Here, Dr. King, then referred to as a Nobel Peace Prize Winner, spoke fervently about the “Poor People’s Campaign” that he had planned for Washington, DC. that year on April 22. There were 200 planning to attend from Jersey City.
“If you can’t fly, run,” Dr. King told the audience there. “If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl – but move.”
“What we need is persistence, insistent, nonviolence where we stand up against the evil system without destroying property,” Dr. King surmised to the group, including men, women and young children, 2,000 strong, who had waited for hours to hear him speak.
Dr. King delivered his message additionally in Newark that evening at the Colonnade Apartments to speak with Newark Legal Services’ Oliver Lofton. He also was said to have visited Orange (Union Baptist Church) and Paterson (Community Baptist Church).
According to a NJ.com article, while in Newark King stopped to South Side High, Mount Calvary Baptist Church, Abyssinian Baptist Church, Queen of Angels and Spirit House.
It was over his dinner meeting though where Dr. King offered a shocking premonition to Lofton. He confessed during the meal that after he visited Memphis, he planned to revisit New Jersey — but Dr. King was strangely hesitant.
He told Lofton, “I may not come back.”
It was two days later that Dr. King was in Memphis. On April 3, he gave his prophetic speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” addressing a bomb threat towards the plane that brought him to Memphis. The following evening Dr. King stood out on the balcony of his motel as he waited to go to dinner, and was murdered from a gunshot wound, pronounced dead about an hour later at the hospital. He was 39 years old.
I’ve Been to the Mountaintop – Apr. 3, 1968
“Well, I don’t know what will happen now,” Dr. King said the night preceding his death of April 4, 1968. “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we as a people, will get to the promised land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
Walter Cronkite Report on the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings,” said Robert Kennedy, when announcing the news that night to a shocked crowd in what some have described as one of his greatest speeches. The crowd gasped collectively. “He died in the cause of that effort.”
Of course, like his brother before him and Dr. King, Senator Robert Kennedy’s life also was taken violently only two months later in June 1968, when he was assassinated by a gunshot wound.
Kennedy addressed the bitterness that he believed the audience would feel. And that he understood their pain, after having lost his own brother to an assassin. He suggested the audience take Dr. King’s philosophy and not be bitter or violent and instead replace angry feelings with those of understanding, compassion and love.
“We have to make an effort in the United States – we have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond or go beyond these rather difficult times,” Kennedy encouraged, while delivering his speech that he wrote on the way to the event, and delivered from inside the back of a truck.
“It’s not the end of lawlessness and it’s not the end of disorder,” Kennedy concluded. “But the vast majority of white people, and the vast majority of black people in this country, want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life. And want justice for all human beings that abide in our land. And want to dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago, ‘to tame the savageness of man, and make gentle the light of this world.’ Let us dedicate ourselves to that and say a prayer for our country and for our people.”
Although many cities rioted following Dr. King’s death, Indianapolis where he delivered his speech was calm following Kennedy’s words of comfort.
Editor’s Note: This story is dedicated in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wish for “The American Dream,” one which took root in some ways in the Garden State and where Dr. King planned to return to mobilize New Jerseyans to assist with the efforts, before his life was tragically extinguished. May we all continue to seek peaceful solutions and look at the one another through the eyes that he looked at each of us with…a true recognition of each human being created equally. May we all strive look at one another with the “agape” that Dr. King favored…with good will towards all.
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