Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Michigan, 1945-68
An Illustrated Timeline
Compiled by Paul Lee
Special to the Michigan Citizen
Pt. III of IV
In January 2007, in celebration of the 78th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., The Michigan Citizen published a two-part, five-page illustrated timeline by Highland Park historian Paul Lee on the visits to Michigan by Dr. King and his wife, Coretta Scott, from 1945-68. The series was republished in 2009.
Since its original appearance, Mr. Lee has discovered contemporary reports and photographs on additional Michigan visits by the Kings, as well as new and revealing documentation on visits previously noted.
Therefore, in honor of Dr. King’s 81st birthday, we are proud to present a Pt. III of the illustrated timeline this week and a Pt. IV next week.
As with the previous installments, special attention has been paid to venues and key contacts in an effort to place the Kings within the precise historical geography, as it were, of the cities that they visited, which, for these parts, are Detroit, Grosse Pointe Farms and Lansing.
However, unlike parts I and II, this timeline also includes appearances by Dr. King that he was scheduled to make, but might not have been able to. This installment also includes more detailed accounts of Mrs. King’s appearances.
Mr. Lee has included photos of several of the venues where the Kings spoke, some of which have since been closed, neglected or demolished, so that our young readers could see Michigan as the Kings saw it and “locate” themselves in relationship to this history.
Finally, we solicit references to any additional Michigan visits by the Kings before Dr. King’s assassination in 1968, as well as any corrections of this or any of the previous installments. Please send them to Paul Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
March 7 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preaches morning and afternoon services at Union Missionary Baptist Church, 1024 West Hillsdale, Lansing, pastored by the Rev. Joel L. King, Dr. King’s paternal uncle.
A month after this visit, King is called to the pastorate of Dexter Avenue Baptist church at Montgomery, Ala.
Feb. 17 King, president of the newly formed Southern Negro Leaders Conference on Transportation and Nonviolent Integration, later the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), speaks at the Lansing Civic Center, 505 W. Allegan St.
King is speaking on behalf of Union Missionary Baptist.
At the civic center, King shares the platform with Michigan Gov. G. Mennen (Soapy) Williams and his wife, the former Nancy Quirk. King praises the governor for his civil-rights stand and says that voters would be making a “great move” if they elected him (Williams) as president of the United States.
Aug. 19 King makes a pre-recorded appearance on the popular Shift Break radio program, hosted by Guy Nunn and broadcast twice daily, which was produced by the United Auto Workers (UAW) union.
Since no U.S. station would carry Shift Break, it was broadcast from CKLW, a Windsor, Ontario, Canada, station on the other side of the Detroit River.
Three days earlier, King met with UAW President Walter P. Reuther at the union’s Solidarity House headquarters, 8000 E. Jefferson Ave., Detroit.
On Shift Break, King says that the version of the civil-rights bill being debated in the U.S. Senate “is better than no bill at all,” but that acceptance of it “would not mean we won’t continue to struggle for a stronger bill.”
May 27-29 A. Philip Randolph, the legendary labor and civil-rights leader and the only African American vice-president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), hosts a meeting at Detroit to form the Negro American Labor Council (NACL). He reportedly invited King, along with other labor and civil-rights leaders, to address the meeting, but it is unclear if King attended.
Oct. 15 King delivers a sermon at the annual “Men’s Day” service at the predominantly African American New Calvary Baptist Church, 3975 Concord, Detroit, pastored by the Rev. Joseph T. Thomas.
According to the church’s Web site, “There was an overflow crowd and [loud] speakers were installed in the Thomas Center to accommodate the overflow. Speakers were also mounted outside so those standing in the streets could hear the preacher of the hour.”
King tells his audience that voter “stand-ins” and “kneel-ins” will be held at registration booths throughout the racially segregated South in a massive effort to double the number of “colored” voters in the fall, according to the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper.
(These tactics were a variant of the “sit-ins” mounted the previous year by Southern African American college students, who sat down at segregated commercial establishments, nonviolently demanding to be served. Their efforts helped spark the mass-protest phase of the modern civil-rights movement.)
The church should foster, not shy away from, “Freedom Rides” to test racial segregation in interstate travel, King declares.
(This tactic was being used by the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee [SNCC] and the Congress of Racial Equality [CORE], then interracial civil-rights groups.)
“The Episcopal ride,” King continues, referring to the 28 Episcopal priests who made a “Freedom Ride” from New Orleans to Dearborn, Mich., the previous month, “demonstrated the interest and concern of the church perhaps more than any other ride. It demonstrated that there are sincere church people concerned about making the Christian Gospel relevant to our day.”
Churches that pull out of blighted areas and leave their buildings for minority groups to take over, King says, are “monuments to an irrelevant Protestantism.”
Oct. 5 King addresses a “Citizens For Freedom” rally, Henry and Edsel Ford Auditorium, 20 East Jefferson Ave., at Detroit’s waterfront.
King declares that the “colored” vote is “vitally important” because in many communities it provides the balance of political power, according to the Baltimore Afro-American.
More and more, he continues, “leaders in the South are realizing that they must take a broader and more responsible stand on matters of civil rights if they want to get elected.”
Nov. 6 King addresses a “Freedom Rally” sponsored by the Trade Union Leadership Council (TULC), a mostly-black reform caucus in the UAW, at Ford Auditorium.
A few days before King’s appearance, according to a United Press International (UPI) report, a group of black Detroit ministers, which included the Rev. Dr. A. A. Banks of Second Baptist, the Rev. T. S. Boone of King Solomon Baptist and the Rev. Charles H. Nicks of St. James Missionary Baptist, charged that “aggressive partisans” wanted to use King for “political purposes” — namely, to encourage African Americans to vote for Democratic candidates.
In a letter to King, the ministers asked him not to “takes sides” in his speech.
The TULC countered that King was invited to “report on the progress the integrationist [King] is making, to ask for continued support of the civil rights movement in the South and to encourage Negroes in Michigan to make maximum use of their vote.”
June 23 King, accompanied by his Washington, D.C.-based aide the Rev. Dr. Walter E. Fauntroy, visits Detroit to lead the “Walk To Freedom” march down Woodward Avenue, the city’s main downtown thoroughfare.
The march is sponsored by the newly formed Detroit Council on Human Rights (DCHR), led by the Rev. C. L. Franklin, pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church and father of singer Aretha Franklin. It is intended to raise funds to support King’s anti-segregation campaign at Birmingham, Ala., which has focused a world spotlight on Southern racial injustice and inspired similar campaigns throughout the country, including the North and West.
News media and police reports on the size of the march vary from as low as 125,000 to as high as 500,000, but one thing is certain — it is the largest civil-rights march until the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom two months later, on Aug. 28, 1963.
Sept. 6 King delivers the centennial emancipation address, commemorating President Abraham Lincoln’s issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, at the Second Annual Session of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. (PNBC), at King Solomon Baptist Church and Educational Center, 6125 14th St., at Marquette, Detroit.
Nov. 9 King is scheduled to receive the Eleanor Roosevelt Trophy, named for the widow of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and a civil-rights champion, from the TULC at its Second Annual Freedom Ball, Cobo Hall, 1 Washington Boulevard, Detroit. King apparently does not attend the ball.
Oct. 30 King visits Detroit during a six-city “get-out-the-vote” tour. At a news conference with UAW President Reuther, King predicts that 98 percent of all ballots cast by African Americans would be for President Lyndon B. Johnson.
According to an earlier announcement by the Rev. Nicholas Hood II, pastor of Plymouth United Church of Christ and chairman of the Detroit arrangements committee, King would “make a walking tour through densely-populated colored communities, rally with ministers and talk with personnel at some major plants.” It is unclear if King did so.
April 3 Coretta Scott King visits Detroit to attend a testimonial to Rosa L. Parks, whose refusal to move to the rear of a segregated bus at Montgomery, Ala., in 1955 helped spark the modern civil-rights movement.
At the time, Mrs. King’s husband was the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and led the successful boycott against segregated buses built around Parks’s action.
According to an Associated Press (AP) report, the testimonial is sponsored by the Citizens Committee for Equal Opportunity (CCEO), organized by Walter Reuther; the Metropolitan Detroit Labor Community Association (MDLCA); the Detroit Urban League (DUL); and the Women’s Public Affairs Committee of 1,000 (WPAC), an interracial, interfaith group dedicated to bettering understanding between peoples.
Parks was a member of the WPAC, headed by her long-time friend Louise C. Tappes, wife of UAW international representative Shelton Tappes.
In Mrs. King’s speech at the testimonial, she announces that her husband will ask college students from across the U. S. to aid voter registration in 120 highly segregated Southern counties.
“We are sending out a call for at least 5,000 students to help organize simultaneous voter registration drives throughout the ‘Black Belt,’” she says, referring to the strip of Southern states with large African Americans populations, mostly denied the right to vote.
Mrs. King says that the actions of Southern law-enforcement officials are responsible for demonstrations such as the one at Selma, Ala.
“It is men like Selma’s Sheriff Jimmy Clark and Birmingham’s Bull Conner who make it necessary for us to hold demonstrations and parades, thus they help dramatize our cause for us,” she declares.
Mrs. King also visits the Democratic headquarters of the 1st Congressional District, where tons of donated food and clothing are stored for African Americans at Selma. A caravan is to take the supplies to Selma on Palm Sunday, April 11, 1965.
May 8 King, or his representative, is scheduled to receive the second annual John F. Kennedy Award from the Young Democratic Clubs of Michigan at their central committee meeting, Lansing Civic Center.
The award is given to the person who has “fought most courageously to preserve American and democratic ideals,” according to the group’s president. It is unclear if King attends the dinner.
May 30 or June 6 Coretta Scott King addresses “Woman’s Day” at Greater Macedonia Baptist Church, 8200 Mack, Detroit, pastored by the Rev. Dr. H. H. Coleman.
According to a Negro Press International (NPI) report, Mrs. King compares world progress with the lag in its struggle in the field of human relations. “[W]e have come a long, long way” in the civil-rights movement, she says, but there is still a long way to go.
“I think it is not only a woman’s challenge for everyone to create a better world, the word ‘better’ suggesting that something is not right.
“Each of us must take part, not just the woman, because what affects another directly, affects everyone indirectly.”
A concern for all people, regardless of race or religion, must be developed “if we are ever to live in a world free of hatred and free of fear of being bombed and free from war,” she says.
(Mrs. King was an early opponent of the U. S. war in Vietnam in Southeast Asia.)
Nov. 18 King addresses an estimated 3,000 persons at an “Appreciation Dinner” in honor of U. S. Rep. Charles C. Diggs, Jr. (Dem.-Mich.), one of Detroit’s two African American congressmen, at Cobo Hall.
Among those in attendance are the Rev. C. L. Franklin and former Michigan Gov. G. Mennen Williams, with entertainment provided by famed Detroit pianist Dorothy Ashby and her trio. The program is tape-recorded by George Pryce of the black-owned WCHB-AM radio station.
According to a United Press International (UPI) report, King calls for a minimum wage of $2.00 an hour to cover “all the workers of the country.”
“What this nation needs is not a glorified welfare program” — an indirect reference to President Johnson’s “War on Poverty” initiative — but higher wages. The struggle for “this type of guaranteed income is the real war on poverty.”
The three greatest problems “in this world are social injustice, poverty and war,” King says. With regard to the former, “It is a strange irony of history that in a nation founded on equality men argue if the color of a man’s skin determines his moral quality.”
Writing in The Chicago Defender, one of the country’s leading African American newspapers, veteran Detroit news columnist, nightclub impresario and dance instructor Joe (Ziggy) Johnson rhapsodized about King’s speech thusly:
“After listening to the 20th century Moses, it is without a doubt King will go down as the greatest for his gift of eloquence. …”
(Continued next week)
This installment could not have been completed without the prompt, expert and generous assistance of Enid Clark and Ashley L. Koebel, Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library; David Votta, Capital Area District Library, Lansing; Necole Hoskins, Marc Rampulla, Sarah Scott and Andy Van Der Raadt, CORBIS Photos; Elizabeth Clemens and Thomas Featherstone, Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University; and La Verne Wilson, Union Missionary Baptist Church, Lansing.
Additional indispensable assistance was provided by Sala Andaiye (Lula Adams), Teresa Kelly, Peter Goldman and Kristin Cleage Williams.
(Copyright © 2010 by Paul Lee)