Remembering Martin Luther King Jr.’s St. Paul visit

On this day, fifty years ago, Martin Luther King Jr.’s voice could be heard across the outdoor mall on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus, proclaiming that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Unbeknownst to many, Martin Luther King Jr. visited the St. Paul campus for an outdoor rally in April of 1967. This was King’s second time visiting the University of Minnesota, preceded only by a cold winter day in January of 1963. That January, King spoke at the Northrop Auditorium about the multitude of unfinished work required to improve the country’s segregation and civil rights issues. This speaking engagement occurred in the midst of King’s growing recognition as the leader of the country’s civil rights movement.

Four years later, the April 27th St. Paul rally was held amidst a new set of civil rights issues. The 1964 Voting Rights Act had granted voting rights to millions of African Americans in the South, but now unrest and violence were increasing in the ghettos of many urban cities.

This specific rally was held to discuss the increasing prevalence of urban riots in northern cities, and King shared how recent legislative victories had “rectified some evils of the South, but did little to improve conditions for millions of Negroes in teeming ghettos of the North.” King told the audience that he would actively continue to condemn the urban riots, which were prevalent in Minneapolis and the Twin Cities area. The riots, King said, were “the language of the unheard.” The insightful King explained that the “summers of riots are caused by our winters of delay,” and called the audience to actively engage in rectifying the ongoing segregation issues.

After addressing the riots, the primarily student audience showed incredible favorability towards King’s next subject—his disapproval towards the Vietnam War. King told the crowd that “America...which took the initiative to escalate the war, should take the initiative to bring it to an end.” King had only recently begun to share his negative views towards the war, much to the dismay of critics that feared this would jeopardize King’s prominent role within the civil rights movement.

Not surprisingly, an aide interrupted and whisked King off to the airport shortly after he began to discuss the war.

Just one short year after speaking on the St. Paul campus, King’s influential career came to a halt in Memphis, Tennessee, where King was assassinated at the Lorraine Hotel.

In 2018, the country remembers anew the accomplishments and vast impacts of Martin Luther King Jr. fifty years after his tragic death. We encourage University of Minnesota alumni, friends, staff, and faculty who had the privilege of attending the 1967 rally here at the St. Paul campus to remember and reflect upon Martin Luther King Jr.’s visit—a moment that will forever hold a unique place in University of Minnesota history.

Author: Brooke Roberts


PIctured with Martin Luther King Jr. are aides Andrew Young, left, and Bernard Lee, right, and U of M President O. Meredith Wilson. This photo is from the Minnesota Historical Society.