50 years later, a replaying of MLK’s speech at Sproul

Martin Luther King Jr. at Sproul in 1967

Martin Luther King on the Sproul steps, May 17, 1967 (Photo by Helen Nestor)

“America has brought the nation and the world to an awe-inspiring threshold of the future… And yet we have not learned the simple art of walking the earth as brothers and sisters.”

So said the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. 50 years ago on the steps of Sproul Hall as the Vietnam War raged and the campus seethed. He spokeon May 17, 1967, before a rapt, sunstruck crowd of more than 7,000, most of them students.

This Saturday, April 29, in tandem with the Summer of Love 50th Anniversary festival, the ASUC will replay a recording of King’s speech in its entirety, and then re-dedicate a historic photograph of him in his namesake building, the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union.

The event will start on the Sproul Hall steps at 2:15 p.m. with the 75-minute replay of the speech he titled “America’s Chief Moral Dilemma.” The dedication ceremony in the student union will start at 3:30 p.m.

King was invited to speak at Berkeley by the Interfraternity Council. As Dick Beahrs, formerly of the IFC, said of the day: “It was incredibly informal. That was the thing that was wildly striking. There was no security of any kind. We drove in my car. He was very easy to talk to — there was no pretense or preconceptions.”

The crowd came with banners celebrating King and encouraging his run for the presidency. Eighteen years after his speech, the ASUC Student Union’s main building was renamed in his honor, after petitioning by the late Ronnie Stevenson, an early Black Panther Party member, activist, Berkeley alum and staff member.

The photograph of Dr. King was taken by the late Berkeley photographer Helen Nestor, then a Berkeley student. She was allowed close access to King because she used a wheelchair. Nestor said of the event: “It was a warm and special feeling to photograph him… The students were very charged up and very much with Dr. King. It was a special time.”

The portrait was given to the ASUC Student Union by the African American Studies Department in 2002 and found its home in the MLK Jr. Student Union building. The photograph was removed during recent renovations and, after reframing, is making its re-appearance on Saturday.

Dr. King’s speech will be played courtesy of Pacifica Radio Archive.