IN 105 DARTMOUTH HALL on the evening of May 23, 1962, an overflow audience of students and Upper Valley residents rose to their feet to welcome the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This event, a lecture on the state of the American civil rights movement, was the highlight of the year's Great Issues Course, a core academic component for all graduating seniors of the classes of 1947 through 1966. Although this would be Dr. King's first and, regrettably, last address to the student body, it was not his only visit to the Dartmouth community. As the result of the turbulence and upheaval of the civil rights era, Dr. King's Dartmouth lecture actually marked the College's third attempt to secure an address by this historic and influential American leader. His words, their meaning, and the passion with which only Dr. King could deliver them profoundly influenced those who attended the evening lecture.
In April 1960, following several months of orchestration by Fred Berthold, then Dean of the Tucker Foundation, and Professor Hugh Morrison, Great Issues Course Director, an unexpected court action against Dr. King from the state of Alabama forced him to cancel his scheduled May 15th and 16th appearances at Dartmouth. Shortly thereafter, he was aquitted on all charges of income tax evasion.
A year later, following several months of careful coordination, Dr. King again was scheduled to present a lecture to the Great Issues Course, as well as to deliver a Sunday sermon at Rollins Chapel. Although Dr. King did arrive in Hanover as scheduled on the weekend of May 20th, the weekend marked the beginning of mass rioting in the South as hundreds of freedom riders, protesting segregationist policies of southern bus terminals, arrived in Montgomery, Alabama and were met by angry mobs. During the first night of violence, more than two dozen civil rights activists were severely beaten, prompting Dr. King to terminate his Dartmouth agenda and return to Alabama to resume leadership of the Freedom Rider movement.
Finally, on May 23, 1962, more than three years after the College had first approached Dr. King about visiting the campus, the persistent efforts of Dean Berthold and Professor Morrison finally bore fruit. That evening, Dr. King electrified the audience in 105 Dartmouth Hall, spotlighting not only the rampant racism of the American South, but also the many inequalities to which African-Americans were subjected nationwide.
About the Great Issues course
Founded under the leadership of Dartmouth President John Sloan Dickey, the year-long Great Issues Course, a requirement for all seniors, investigated issues of critical national and international importance of the day.
Michael Murray and Sarah Horton of Dartmouth's Academic Computing created the presentation as part of the 2003 Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration. They used a cassette tape of the speech from Professor William Cook, and images and video from various sources, including the Video Encyclopedia of the 20th Century. The presentation venue was the same room as the original speech: 105 Dartmouth Hall.
Patrick Walls, MALS '03, prepared the transcript, introduction, and notes.
Last Updated: 2/1/16