Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
IWU puts King's 1966 speech online

IWU puts King's 1966 speech online

  • 0

BLOOMINGTON - On Feb. 10, 1966, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stood before a standing room only crowd at Illinois Wesleyan University.

"We had begun to hear about him. And it was such a high moment - to have him here - an African-American national leader," said Caribel Washington, 92, of Bloomington, who attended the speech.

"What amazed me was the excitement of the students," she said. Washington also remembers her sister Kathryn Dean getting King's autograph.

To mark the 40th anniversary of the 1966 event, IWU posted the transcript of the speech on its campus Web site,

The anniversary, combined with the death of the civil rights leader's widow, Coretta Scott King, earlier this week led to renewed interest in the speech, said Sherry Wallace, assistant director of university communications at the private liberal arts campus.

King had visited the IWU campus in 1961, but Coretta Scott King accompanied the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner for the second trip.

In re-examining the document Wallace said she was struck by several elements.

"It is an important speech. And it's still very timely. Much of what he said still holds true today," said Wallace.

Even reading the words, his cadence comes through, she said.

The Rev. John Sims of Bloomington, who along with his wife, Corine Sims, organizes the annual Martin Luther King Jr. dinner at IWU, also remembers attending the speech.

"It was a fantastic evening. It definitely was standing room only. I had to park over by Brokaw (Hospital) and walk," he said.

Pam Muirhead, an IWU English professor who was a student on the campus in 1966, also remembers the night.

"It was the first time I'd ever seen police dogs," she said.

By that point, death threats were an everyday part of Martin Luther King's life, she said.

The FBI and police were everywhere, she recalled.

John Sims said that as a minister himself, he remembers being very proud of Martin Luther King and how far he had come with his message.

While Corine Sims had to stay home to care for the family's children, she also recalled the excitement of the evening.

"Oh, yes. It was a special time. My husband came home and started telling me everything Dr. King had said," she said.

"He (King) even made a joke about being late - that he'd rather be Martin Luther King late than the late Martin Luther King," she said.

The speech transcript records that joke, and other more serious topics, such as the civil rights leader's attention to international peace and racial equality.

He spoke of the nonviolent peace movement's philosophy of love. He cited different types of love defined by the ancient Greeks, and spoke of using William Shakespeare's take on Eros to woo Coretta Scott when courting.

The community welcomed King and was excited by his presence, said Muirhead.

"But we didn't know then what kind of tragedy was ahead," said John Sims, referring to the 1968 assassination of the civil rights leader.

Bob Keck, a retired Illinois Wesleyan professor and coach, said he remembers the Fred Young Field House crowd.

"I felt like he was telling it exactly as he felt it. He wasn't trying to impress anyone. He was speaking from his heart," said Keck.


Be the first to know

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News