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On this day in 1965: MLK visits MSU to continue civil rights crusade

By: - February 11, 2022 5:46 am

Civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers a speech to a crowd of approximately 7,000 people on May 17, 1967 at UC Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza in Berkeley, California. | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

On Feb. 11, 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. visited Michigan State University (MSU) to continue his civil and voting rights efforts. 

Before a crowd of 4,000, King stated that Americans “must learn to live together as brothers, or we will all perish as fools.”

Moreover, he called for legislation to ensure a “uniform, universal pattern” for voter registration administered by the federal government, according to Lansing State Journal reporting. King also urged for an end to “complicated and absurd” literacy tests used to keep Blacks from exercising their voting rights in some Southern states.

“It may be true that morality cannot be legislated but behavior can be regulated,” said King.

King also came to MSU to kick off a fundraising drive for the university student government-sponsored Student Education Program, which was later known as the Student Tutorial Education Program.

As he concluded his presentation, King stated he “needs the concern of people of good will all over this country.”

After the address, King flew to Selma, Ala., to continue a voter registration drive that helped to fuel the passage of the federal Voting Rights Act.

It was King’s third and final visit to the Capital City area. In 1954 and 1957, he was invited to speak in Lansing at the request of his uncle, the Rev. Joel King, pastor of Lansing’s Union Baptist Church.

“Many observers throughout the nation have voiced the belief that Dr. King’s emphasis on nonviolence has possibly saved the lives of hundreds of persons of the Negro and white racial groups,” said Joel King in 1957, just before his nephew’s Feb. 17 visit that year.  

In June 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. partnered with the Detroit Council for Human Rights to lead a civil rights march in downtown Detroit where he first delivered his seminal “I Have a Dream Speech.” The effort attracted 125,000 people. 

The 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner was assassinated in April 1968 during a visit to support striking Memphis, Tenn., sanitation workers. 

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on Black life in Detroit.