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MLK on the Mesa

Decades Ago at San Diego State: Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech at San Diego State in 1964.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Daily Aztec headline about his visit to San Diego State.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Daily Aztec headline about his visit to San Diego State.

MLK on the Mesa

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To celebrate the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this month, Decades Ago looks back at the day in 1964 when King traveled to San Diego and delivered a speech at San Diego State.

Coming to the Mesa

On May 27, 1964, the Daily Aztec reported that King would speak on an unannounced topic that Friday in the Open Air Theater. The article reported largely biographical information about King — that he was a Baptist minister, Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” in 1964 and founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference who “was thrust into the national spotlight” because of the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott he led eight years earlier.

The article included matter-of-factly that King led the 1963 “March on Washington” and had “borrowed heavily from Gandhi’s ideas of passive resistance.” Alongside this story, the Daily Aztec reported that the Associated Students Council was to discuss that day designating “on-campus status” to the Campus Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).

On the day of the speech, the Daily Aztec announced again that King would speak in the Open Air Theater and repeated most of what it reported two days earlier, and also wrote that King would speak that night at “Cal Western’s Golden Gym.” The title of that speech was ''Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.''

Civil rights on campus

The May 29 issue of the Daily Aztec had a good deal more copy devoted to the decision by AS Council to grant on-campus, student-group status to the Campus CORE. AS Council rose above fears “the campus would be propagandized by a national organization,” likely due to comments at the meeting by Harold Brown, chair of the San Diego chapter of CORE.

On June 2, the Daily Aztec covered King’s speech the Friday before, but not until page 9. Delivered to a near-capacity crowd, the subject of King’s speech was “his faith in the American dream.”

“If the American dream is to become a reality,” King said, “it must be concerned with the world dream” to “make the world one in terms of brotherhood and peace.”

Secondly, “people must get rid of the idea that there are superior and inferior races.” The third step in the realization of the American dream was “immediate action to rid the country of the last vestiges of segregation.”

To this point specifically, King “emphasized the importance of passing the civil rights legislation now in Congress.” This legislation was the landmark Civil Rights Bill of 1964 signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, which outlawed discrimination against African Americans and women. The bill included voter registration protections and ended racial segregation in schools, workplaces and in facilities of “public accommodation.”

Hoping for a comeback

San Diego State students extended invitations to King to visit and speak at the college in 1965 and 1966.

In both instances he was unable to attend — in 1965 due to “the present temper of events in the civil rights struggle,” and in 1966, expressing deep gratitude and regret, grass roots level work in communities, workshops on non-violence, voter registration and fund-raising meetings would keep him from accepting the invitation.

King also cited “the movement which we are embarking on in Chicago,” a reference to the Chicago Freedom Movement which would lead to two dramatic marches into all-white neighborhoods in a struggle for “open housing” during the summer of 1966.

About Decades Ago at San Diego State

The SDSU Library's Department of Special Collections and University Archives presents the weekly series "Decades Ago at San Diego State." Special Collections and University Archives staff members collect articles and photos from archived issues of The Daily Aztec, providing a glimpse of the university's past and its memorable events, people and programs. 

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