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The Journal Gazette

  • Photo courtesy Manchester University Manchester President A. Blair Helman, right, escorts Martin Luther King Jr. across campus on Feb. 1, 1968.

  • File Lights on Fort Wayne’s renovated Martin Luther King bridge reflect a patriotic theme at the June 2012 unveiling. The bridge, which features plaques with 25 King quotes, is a gateway to downtown and a popular starting point for social justice marches.

Monday, January 15, 2018 1:00 am

Editorial

Half a century later, his relevance remains

King's Manchester speech continues to resonate in a divided nation

King's words

From “The Future of Integration” speech at Manchester in 1968:

 

“We've come a long, long way, but, we must honestly face the fact that all over America we still have a long, long way to go before the problem of racial injustice is solved ...” 

 

“It is much easier to integrate alunch counter than it is to eradi-cate slums. It is easier to guarantee the right to vote than it is to guarantee jobs that guarantee an annual minimum income. ... It must be recognized that the struggle for civil rights and racial justice is much more difficult now precisely because it is a struggle for genuine equality. ...”

 

“It may be true that the law cannot change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law can't make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me – and I think that's pretty important also. So, while the law may not change the hearts of men, it does change the habits of men when it is vigorously enforced. ...”

 

“I am afraid that our national administration is more concerned about winning an ill-considered war in Vietnam than about winning the war against poverty right here at home. ... If the problem of racial injustice is to be solved, we have got to go all out to change the priorities of our nation and to get our government to spend money not for death and destruction but for life and for all of the good things surrounding life. ...”

 

“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. So I can still sing 'We Shall Overcome'; we shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” 

The 1960s seem a long time gone because they are. But it feels as though Martin Luther King Jr., born on this date in 1929, has been away just a little while. Every January, America pauses to remember his wisdom, grace and courage. This year, his message of brotherhood and peace seems particularly timely.

King's role in the modern civil rights movement began with his unlikely selection to lead a local bus boycott when he was a 26-year-old minister in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955. Before his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, in April 1968, King had led local civil rights campaigns throughout the South and traveled to all corners of the nation to speak and raise funds and support for the movement.

His calls to overcome injustice with love and nonviolent confrontation resounded not only on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., where he gave his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, but also in places like Fort Wayne, where he spoke at the Scottish Rite Auditorium on June 5, 1963, and at Manchester College in North Manchester, where he gave what would be his last college-campus address on Feb. 1, 1968.

In an edition of Manchester Magazine in advance of the 50th anniversary of his visit, those who were students at the time reflected on how King's day on their campus changed their lives. Joel Eikenberry, a longtime North Manchester physician who was a senior at the time, said, “It remains in my being to this day.”

King's words inspired millions of Americans to oppose racial discrimination, but they also ignited hatred and threats of vio-lence, even in a small college town. Patty Helman Nagaro, daughter of the institution's president, Blair Helman, recalled receiving death threats at their home. The magazine recounted the extraordinary security precautions authorities took when King flew into Fort Wayne to be driven to the campus:

“Police and the FBI had cars blocking every intersection between Baer Field and North Manchester. Students waited in the pouring rain to pass a security check to enter the gymnasium. Police officers were stationed at every door and plainclothes officers were dispersed through the crowd.”

Those around King say those constant threats weighed on King during his final months. He didn't share his growing conviction that death was near with the audience that day at Manchester, but stress is etched in his face as he walks with President Helman in the remarkable photo above. A blend of fear, determination and faith, a metaphor for the movement he led, kept King moving forward to share his message in places no one made him go, including a campus in northeast Indiana.

As you celebrate his words today, consider the courage it took for him to deliver them that rainy day in North Manchester, two months before he was shot to death by a sniper.