The Des Moines Register has a nice piece today about Martin Luther King Jr.’s Nov. 11, 1959, speech in Iowa City. It made me wonder how The Gazette covered it.
So I checked the archives. On November 12, 1959, the big story was an autumn snowstorm. “ROADS BECOMING HAZARDOUS” said the blaring headline. There were two dateline Iowa City stories on page 1. One about a survey of 200 University of Iowa students that showed 25 percent cheated on 1st semester exams. A second was on U of I researchers trying to figure out how to provide fresh air to spacemen. “Fresh Iowa Air for Spaceship?” the headline asked.
But King’s stop made the bottom of page 10. It might have been a graph or two longer had we not goofed on the price of coffee at Buehler’s.
King got a lot more local attention in October 1962, when he gave speeches to big crowds at Cornell College in Mount Vernon and at Coe College in Cedar Rapids. His appearance at Cornell rated a front-page piece by Frank Nye.
A crowd of 600 saw King speak at Cornell. Nye, to his credit, got out of the way, and let King’s eloquence drive his story:
“We have come to the point,’ Dr, King said, “where we can say in the South to those who use violence against us:
“We will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering.
“We will meet your physical force with soul force.
“Do to us what you will, and we still love you.
“We cannot in good conscience obey your unjust laws because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.
“Throw us in jail and we will still love you. Pull us from our homes and beat us, threaten our children and difficult as it is, we will still love you.
“Send us your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities after midnight and drag us out onto some wayside road and beat us half to death, and we will still love you.
“Be ye assured that we will wear you down with our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom.
“We will not only win freedom for ourselves, we will so appeal to your heart and conscience we will win you in the process.”
“We no longer have a choice between violence and non-violence,” he continued. “Now it is the choice between non-violence and non-existence.”
Dr. King, who has experienced personally many of the injustices he was talking about, spoke without rancor or bitterness and with such dedication to a cause and sincerity that the audience gave him a standing ovation that lasted nearly five minutes.
Powerful stuff. Just typing it gives you goosebumps.
King’s speech at Coe drew 1,200, although The Gazette’s story “Overflow Crowd Hears King at Coe” was relegated to page 14. Like Nye, reporter Ben Blackstock handed much of his space over to King’s words:
“If America is to achieve its dream of equality of man, it must do three things:
“First, we must make the world dream of brotherhood a reality. We live in a world which is much close geographically due to scientific progress and the speed of transportation.
“We must live together as a brotherhood or perish as fools. No nation can live alone as no individual can live alone.
“But how can one avoid being depressed when we see millions going to bed hungry each night and millions sleeping on sidewalks? We spend millions building military bases when we could spend millions more to end world hunger and promote brotherhood.
“Second, we must get rid of this notion once and for all that there inferior and superior races. Science has said there is no truth in the superior or inferior races.
“Man once justified this doctrine with Biblical passages and even used the Bible to justify slavery. Today, however, more and more people have gotten away from the Biblical and religious argument to justify racial discrimination.
“Now these people say discrimination is necessary for sociological and cultural reasons. They say the Negro is not culturally ready for integration, that he would pull back the white people if we had integration.
“If there is a lagging standard in the Negro community, this is due to environment and not race. It is indeed tragic logic to use the results of segregation as a reason to perpetuate segregation.
“And finally, we must work vigorously to get rind of racial segregation in all of its dimensions.
“Segregation is still America’s shame and the Negro’s burden. Segregation is the cancer in democracy’s body. In the South many of the public facilities are still segregated. And in the north we have the twin evils of housing and employment discrimination.”
Less than a year later, King gave his most famous speech at the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963. In one passage, he returned to the theme of suffering he addressed at Cornell:
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest — quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.
Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.