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Martin Luther King, Jr. Visited West Virginia 55 Years Ago

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
January 19th, 2015

Blog post by Lori Hostuttler, Digital Projects and Outreach Archivist, WVRHC.


Today we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who championed equality and justice and espoused non-violence, unconditional love for our enemies, tolerance and service.  His words are just as poignant today as they were in the 1960s.  And his dream is still something we strive to achieve.  He is certainly someone that inspires me to be an optimist, to cherish love and to forgive – to be a better person.  Thinking about my blog entry for today, I wondered if Dr. King had any West Virginia connection.  I found that he spoke in Charleston 55 years ago this week.


Martin Luther King, Jr. Monument

The MLK Memorial in Washington, DC taken during my visit there in 2012.


On Sunday, January 24, 1960, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a sermon and message at the First Baptist Church in Charleston.  A small announcement in the Charleston Gazette appeared in the Come to Church column of the Saturday paper.


Clipping from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s visit to Charleston

All members of the public were invited to come and hear King speak.


The editors of the Gazette also included an editorial noting that King would see the same race issues in Charleston as he had in the South, but there were also “men of good will.”


Clipping about MLK Visit and Racial Attitudes in Charleston

From the Saturday, January 23 Charleston Gazette Opinion page.


Gazette reporter Don Marsh interviewed Dr. King at his hotel in Charleston the evening before his address.  King talked specifically about integration as a step beyond desegregation.  He said, “ultimately, we seek integration which is true inter-group, inter-personal living where you sit on the bus, you sit together not because the law says it but because it is natural, it is what is right.”


Martin Luther King, Jr. and Moses Newsom

Rev. Newsome was the Minister at First Baptist Church.


Don Marsh also attended the sermon and summarized it the following day.  King spoke to a packed house and was welcomed by Charleston Mayor John Shanklin.  Marsh described his voice as “low, powerful, controlled.”


Clipping from Jan. 25, 1960 about MLK Speech at First Baptist in Charleston


King urged forgiveness and reconciliation as a new order emerged in the United States.  He also appealed for action, asking the audience to do what they could to “advance the case of mutual self-respect and understanding in any way they could.” Saying also, “we must work unceasingly for first class citizenship, but we mustn’t use second class means to get it.”


"Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that." MLK Quote, 1963

A favorite quote from the walls of the MLK Memorial.


In preparing to write today, I read Coretta Scott King’s piece on the meaning of the Martin Luther King holiday (   It is also a call to action, a call to serve, just as Dr. King asked of those in his Charleston audience in 1960.   Beyond a day of remembrance, Mrs. King calls for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to be a day of service.


As I look back at these news articles and quotes from King, I can see some progress in the last half century.  At the same time I also realize how much more work needs done on matters of race, poverty, peace and justice all these years later.  As we each celebrate and remember Dr. King today, I hope we are moved to work harder for those in need and to love others unconditionally, just as he did.

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