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November 21, 2019

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Reflections on the King visit to ONU

Having heard many speakers in more than 50 years of reporting, I can say none come close to the oratory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he spoke for 40 minutes in Taft Gym. I've heard no other speaker compare to his well thought out speech, a man with charisma, keeping his audience spellbound.
A rehearing of his talk of Jan. 11, 1968, which was posted on the Ada Icon Monday in observance of the national holiday, brought these reflections to mind:
1. The civil rights leader took a middle ground saying that yes, advances had been made but there was more to accomplish.
2. Nonviolence, changing hearts, winning in the courts are some of the major means of advancing civil rights.
3. It was politically correct to say Negro, a word he often used in his Ada speech, how times have changed. Now, with President-elect Trump ignoring PC, maybe change is afoot again.
4. Dr. King was an orator, never stumbling, not fearing to use big words (but correct words) and he had the cadence that black preachers have yet today.
I was director of ONU public information at the time. This was an unusual situation because a man of global reputation was coming to campus, yet publicity from my office would be minimal. There were just so many people we could accommodate in Taft Gym and Lehr Auditorium, where the speech would be piped in on a large screen.
Then, there was fear of disturbances since Dr. King, to some, was polarizing.
Somehow, we informed the Lima black community he would be speaking on campus. I don't know how, surmise it was through the churches.
There was no news release sent to the media prior to the date of his talk, except at the last minute. That last minute release brought many reporters from newspapers, radio, TV to campus to cover what Dr. King said. There was no social media at the time, of course.
The day arrived. Taft filled quickly, the overflow went to Lehr Auditorium where Dr. King could be seen and heard on a large screen. Back then, it was unusual to set up an overflow area with sight and sound, but it was successful.
The auditorium, with its large pipe organ, is gone, now used for administrative offices and storage.
So, too, has Taft Gym changed greatly, having been drastically remodeled for technology studies and robotics instruction.
Physical aspects of where the historic talk was given have changed over time, but the words from Dr. King have not. Today, there are extreme views, on the left and right, on this and other social issue (women's causes, LGBT rights, abortion, guns, immigration). Where are today's, world-known, nationally-known spokespersons on these controversies?
Dr. King, having received the Nobel Peace Prize four years before his ONU address, arrived late that January day 49 years ago, the audience waited, wondering why there was a delay, would he show up.
Yes, he did, to thunderous applause. Dr. James Udy, ONU chaplain, explained that there was car trouble and then the police stopped them for speeding. Dr. King quipped, "I would rather be Dr. Martin Luther King late, than the late Dr. Martin Luther King." Three months later he was shot dead in Memphis.