‘Violence can never bring permanent peace’ Martin Luther King Jr. tells Miami students and faculty in 1959
“Men ought not to become adjusted to segregation, bigotry, economic injustice, the madness of militarism, the self-defeating effects of physical violence,” Martin Luther King Jr. told an overflow crowd in Miami University’s student center ballroom Dec. 10, 1959.
“We need the maladjustment of Abraham Lincoln, who said a nation cannot exist half slave, half free; of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote that all men are created equal; and of Jesus of Nazareth, who urged us to love our enemies. If we go out with such maladjustment, we can emerge from the midnight of injustice.”
Known for bus boycott
Invited to the Oxford campus by the student organization Miami Independent Association, he was pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, at that time and was known chiefly for his role in the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, which he had organized from his church basement office.
He would join his father’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta as co-pastor mere months after his visit to Oxford, Ohio.
“His low-keyed 45-minute talk brought a standing ovation from the audience,” according to the Hamilton, Ohio, Journal-News.
Recalling his visit
Barbara Stephens Cox ’64, who lives outside of Oxford today, remembers Dr. King’s visit.
“A very small group of us met in a room at Shriver Center (then University Center). We knew he was certainly an important person but had no idea of the magnitude he would make on our country.”
Other local people remember hearing him at a pre-speech dinner hosted by the Oxford NAACP at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Oxford.
Arthur Miller ’49, founding member and president for 30 years of Oxford’s chapter of the NAACP, told the Hamilton Journal-News in 2005, “We had a Freedom Fund dinner and he spoke before us. Then he went to Miami University before a standing-room-only crowd and gave a brilliant speech.”
The Journal-News went on to say that the comments King delivered that Thursday evening inspired Miller to be involved in Western College’s 1964 Freedom Summer, which he called a turning point in civil rights history.
Bill Miller Jr. ’67, Art’s nephew, fondly recollects that his mother, Bessie Suel Miller, who now lives at the Knolls of Oxford, baked a cherry pie for the NAACP dinner. The oft-told family story is that King said it was the best cherry pie he’d ever eaten.
Notes from 1959
To honor King, considered the chief spokesperson for nonviolent activism in the civil rights movement, the following excerpts come from accounts of his visit, shared by Miami’s Walter Havighurst Special Collections and Archives at King Library and the Smith Library of Regional History at Oxford’s Lane Public Library.
“A question period included one query in a polite Southern accent. ‘As a native of South Carolina, where may we find more Martin Luther Kings?’
“King responded: ‘I don’t know what Mr. King is or has that is so unique because there are many in the South just as dedicated and courageous and sincere and intelligent as some who have been accorded publicity because history has catapulted them into the public eye. And they are doing their job in a beautiful manner.’ ” – “Large Audience At Miami Hears Martin Luther King,” Hamilton Journal-News, Dec. 11, 1959
“Alphas proudly participated in ceremonies honoring one of their most distinguished brothers, Martin Luther King, when he appeared here.” – 1959 Recensio, Miami yearbook
A glimpse of the future
In a Jan. 13, 1994, article titled “King’s visit to Miami,” the faculty-staff newspaper at the time, The Miami Report, told the story of a university reporter at the 1959 event, who jotted the following observations of Dr. King at the bottom of his memo pad:
“This is an exceptionally articulate man. He had no notes. He never really raised his voice. For 23 minutes, he was strictly matter-of-fact, almost academic.
“At that stage, he deftly moved into a delivery which was slightly more emotional, displayed just a touch more of erudition, introduced just a touch of familiarity with Greek to explain the precise variety of love-among-mankind he was talking about, and bore down just a bit more on the religious considerations one might have expected a minister to emphasize.
“He is effective through his restraint. And I’ll wager we haven’t heard the last of him.”