The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1967 speech to Grinnell remains relevant

JRC 101 was packed with attendees who were eager to listen to Martin Luthe rKing Jr.’s speach. Photo by Helena Gruensteidl.


In 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke in Grinnell. Photo contributed.

JRC 101 was packed this past Tuesday, Jan. 23 as students, staff and community members listened to a recording of a speech given by Martin Luther King Jr. at the College 50 years ago, “Remaining Wake Through a Revolution.” Organized by Special Collections Librarian and Archivist Christopher Jones, Director of Rosenfield Center Barb Trish, Rosenfield Program in Public Affairs Program Associate Laureen Van Wyk, Assistant Director of Intercultural Affairs Jordan Brooks and Associate Dean Maure Smith-Benanti, the event commemorated Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The organizers promoted the event, acquired permission from the King Estate to play the entirety of his speech and created a PowerPoint presentation that displayed relevant images. Some of these images included King at Grinnell, as well as various forms of protest.

After the speech, attendants reflected on what they had heard and wrote down any memories of the original 1967 speech. These were then to be contributed to Burling Library Special Collections, “so that future scholars of social justice movements on campus will be able to use those for researching,” Jones said.

The original presentation of the speech 50 years ago was the centerpiece of a three-day convocation titled “The Liberal Arts College in a World of Change.” That convocation also included such prominent speakers as James Armstrong, Daniel Bell, Stephen Benedict, George Champion, Ralph Ellison, Fred Friendly, Richard Gilman, S I Hayakawa, Gerald Holton, William Lawrence, Benjamin Hays, Dean McHenry, Marshall McLuhan, Leonard Meyer, Ashley Montagu, Willie Morris, Calvin Plimpton, Robert Rauschenberg, Richard Rovere and Harold Schonberg.

“[King] really draws on his southern Baptist preacher speaking style to deliver this speech,” Jones said of the recording. “He speaks very slowly, he enunciates very clearly. It is a very impassioned speech.”

JRC 101 was packed with attendees who were eager to listen to Martin Luthe rKing Jr.’s speach. Photo by Helena Gruensteidl.

“I think his speech was a signal event in the lives of a lot of people who were here at the time,” said Associate Chaplain & Rabbi Rob Cabelli. “In that sense it is a little bit of coming full circle in a way, when the 60’s came and [King] being here.”

Cabelli identified an important quote from King’s Grinnell speech: “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”

In his speech, King addressed how our destiny is tied together, and explained that the world has grown integrated because of science. He reminded the audience to keep moral improvement in line with scientific progress.

King revealed that things would not work themselves out because time is a neutral force. Remaining awake means recognizing that racism is still an active force and it can only be intentionally combatted.

Cabelli emphasized King’s message of avoiding the “convenient denial of being part of a society in which injustice endures, and perhaps even prevails.”

“Who are you into relation to this?” Cabelli said. “Can you really be silent?”

The speech includes “some almost eerie parallels to current political and social movements and counter-movements,” according to Jones.

“With respect to African-Americans it is arguable that our progress in many ways has stalled out,” Cabelli said. “That we’re still going through the same conversations right now that we might have been having forty or fifty years ago. … What kind of equality can take place if we don’t see the injustice that is expressed against somebody else as being an issue for us too?”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *