It was an era of sit-ins, walk-outs and the dawn of the “peace and love” generation across America. It was 1960 and the nation was aflame with rhetoric about integration and civil rights.
Much of that rhetoric barely resonated in small towns across the country, but one voice could not be ignored or dismissed, the voice of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The Atlanta-born minister and advocate of peaceful protests to help ensure minority rights and acceptance, was a sought-after speaker by numerous universities and colleges and more.
Nowhere was a visit more anticipated that at the small Mennonite College in Goshen, Indiana, that year, where support for King was phenomenal.
Many famous people have visited Goshen College since it was founded in 1894 — none more famous than the Rev. Dr. King Jr.
The charismatic pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta soared to national prominence in 1954 by leading a boycott against the segregated bus system in Montgomery. Alabama. He had endured many threats to his life and had been arrested in protests. In 1959, a year before his Goshen visit, King spent a month in India studying Mahatma Gandhi’s techniques of nonviolence.
The civil rights leader visited Goshen College on March 10, 1960, in the midst of the struggle he was leading for racial equality.
In later years would come more protests, more arrests, the March on Washington, the “I Have a Dream” speech, the Nobel Peace Prize — more triumphs and more frustrations.
But on the evening of March 10, 1960, King delivered a spellbinding lecture to a crowd packed into Goshen College’s Union Auditorium, according to news accounts.
One of the reporters covering the event was my mother, Louise Purvis, veteran news reporter and feature writer for The South Bend Tribune newspaper — and not the least, my inspiration for a 40-plus-years career in her footsteps.
Her widely acclaimed account was later read into the Congressional Record by Indiana Congressman John Brademas of South Bend.
The Tribune and The Elkhart Truth newspapers reported that King lectured about the “sit-down” strikes against segregated restaurants that already had spread to 37 cities in the South.
“The strikes will arouse the dozing conscience of the South,” he predicted.
King condemned police tactics used against student demonstrators and he spoke about his commitment to nonviolence. King told the crowd about a telegram he had just sent pleading for President Dwight D. Eisenhower to help end the “reign of terror” by police against the students in Montgomery.
In the news reports, one quote was to become one of many by Dr. King that became famous: “The basic aim of the Negro is to be the white man’s brother, not his brother-in-law,” he said.
Further, that all persons should be free to marry whomever they wanted, but he rejected the idea that a desire for intermarriage had any bearing on the drive for civil rights.
“We have broken loose from the Egypt of slavery. We moved through the wilderness of segregation. We stand now on the border of the promised land of integration,” the Tribune quoted King as saying.
King also called on religious leaders to help change attitudes on racial issues. He pointedly noted that churches were a “segregated island” in America and he said that political moderates and liberals had an obligation to speak out in protest.
His speech found a willing and appreciative audience among the students and faculty at Goshen College, where he spent the night and broke bread with his hosts.
It’s easy to imagine that at least two of Dr. King’s favorite foods, according to historical accounts, were served — including the Southern staples of fried chicken, sweet potatoes, collard greens and pecan pie.
This holiday season and his birthday celebrated nationally on Jan. 20 has many rich traditions.
The King/Williams family (based on the marriage of Dr. Martin Luther King Sr. and his wife, Alberta Williams King) now has seven generations celebrating the holidays together. The King/Williams family can trace their lineage back to Africa, Ireland, and Native America.
Julianne Munn is food writer for the Citrus County Chronicle. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.