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Martin Luther King Jr.: Buffalo memories

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

On a day when we recognize Martin Luther King Jr.‘s legacy and indelible imprint on racial change, it’s time to harken back to MLKJ’s visit to Buffalo on Nov. 9, 1967, five months before his assassination.

The great non-violent activist who championed African-American Civil Rights Movement spoke in front of 2,100 at Kleinhans Music Hall at the invitation of the University at Buffalo Graduate Student Association. Even though he’d collected the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, he’d been reamed out in the press at the time for his outspoken anti-war views, but he continued to plod along despite his lack of support. Revisiting this speech is fascinating from several angles:

—Martin Luther King Jr. had a stunning ability to fit in comfortably wherever he went, regardless of his audience:

Here’s a quote from Buffalo Common Council supervisor at the time George K. Arthur:

“[Martin Luther King Jr.] was regular, friendly and easy to talk to. He had a somewhat dry sense of humor, but despite (his greatness) he felt like one of the boys.”

—MLKJ was both prescient and eloquent:

From his place on the Kleinhans stage, King said: “We are moving toward the day when we will judge a man by his character and ability instead of by the color of his skin.”
Is there any better way to encapsulate why we celebrate this holiday?

—King, well aware that his beliefs were unpopular, held them firmly until his death:

The liberator’s leftist stance on Vietnam didn’t win him many favors from the local African-American community, as UB GSA board member Joseph Nechasek noted:

“A lot of Buffalo politicians and civic leaders declined to attend the talk. I don’t remember an outpouring of support from the black community or from UB, either.” In fact, leading black Baptist ministers did stay home, objecting to the contentiousness of King’s position that America was more concerned with winning “an ill-considered and unjust war…than in winning the war against poverty at home.”

Now, it’s probably not my place to call out the local leaders for avoiding a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness a heroically staunch representative for African-American rights. I’m sure the passage of time, King’s assassination and his nationally-recognized holiday have injected enough personal regret. 

—He was inspiring:

Here’s an unbelievably motivational line from King’s speech in Buffalo, courtesy of The Challenger:

We are going to win our freedom because both the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of the Almighty God are embodied in our echoing demands and so I can still say ‘We shall overcome.’”

(Header photo courtesy of ABCNews.go.com. Inner photo courtesy of the Buffalo Courier-Express.)

TAGGED: kleinhans music hall, martin luther king jr., mlkj, nobel peace prize

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  1. Ben Kirst January 21, 2013 @ 1:03pm

    Also from the King speech in Buffalo: “...although there are difficult days ahead, I have faith in the future, and we shall overcome!” (http://www.buffalonian.com/hnews/1967mlkinginbuffalo.html)

    Ben Kirst's avatar