As we mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day today, let us look back nearly 50 years ago, to the day the famed civil rights hero spoke before a crowd of students in Buffalo.
In 1967, the Student Association and Graduate Student Association at UB invited King to speak in Buffalo. In a Buffalo Evening News article headlined “Dr. King Criticizes LBJ Priority For Viet Instead of Poverty War,” reporter Anthony Bannon recapped the speech:
Dr. Martin Luther King Thursday evening rebuked the Johnson Administration for waging “an unjust and immoral war in Vietnam” rather than winning the war against poverty.
The 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner advocated spending $20 billion each year “over the next few years” to eradicate slums and poverty.
During a six minute news conference later, he said he wants the space program and the war in Vietnam de-escalated and the war on poverty escalated.
“It is unfortunate that we’d rather get a man on the moon than get God’s children on their feet right here,” he added.
Criticized by militant civil rights advocates for insisting on nonviolence and co-operation with whites, Dr. King emotionally closed his hour-long address by hoping for the day “when all men can join hands and sing: “Free at last. Free at last. Thank God almighty we are free at last.”
Deep, heavy voice
The audience responded with a standing ovation for just under one minute.
Earlier, in a deep, heavy voice, Dr. King scored Black Power advocates: “There can be no separate black path which does not intersect the white route.” Likewise he noted, there can be no white approach that doesn’t include Negroes.
“If we are to move toward a truly integrated society … black and white Americans must realize that their destinies are bred together … Every white person is a little Negro and every Negro is a little white.”
A sidebar to the story, headlined “King Contrasts His Escorts,” detailed King’s security:
Dr. Martin Luther King, speaking here Thursday evening, contrasted the phalanx of police who escorted him in Buffalo for his safety to the Alabama police who escorted him to jail last week for violating a Birmingham court injunction in 1963.
“I can assure you this is a much more relaxing atmosphere,” he said about Buffalo.
Dr. King was assassinated six months after his visit here. After King's death, Bill Artis wrote a story ("Unafraid of Death, Dr. King Said: Willing to Die as Price as Freedom, He Told Buffalo Audience") in which he remembered the speech:
Speaking in Kleinhans Music Hall to about 2500 person on Nov. 9, he (King) called rioting "immoral," but went on to condemn the causes.
He said much hope could be stirred in the black community if the nation took actions to indicate that it has the "will" to solve the race problems.
He explained that as an apostle of nonviolence he could not support wars or he would be contradicting his own philosophy.
As he finished the speech he received a standing ovation. I felt that the applause was an expression of the wrong reaction Dr. King always provoked.
Listeners became absorbed in him and what he had to say. Dr. King was a man who could not be ignored. He provoked great reaction either negative or positive.
On many occasions he disdained the long, uninvolved neutral life in favor of a vigorous short one. And in Buffalo he repeated his belief:
"It is not the quantity of a man's life that matters, but the quality."
Photos and audio from King's speech in Buffalo are available through the UB Library Archives' Digital Collection.