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Half Century Has Passed Since MLK Spoke at Northwestern

Fifty years ago last spring, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered two lectures at Northwestern.

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January 12, 2009
EVANSTON, Ill. --- Fifty years ago last spring, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered two Mars series lectures on Northwestern University's Evanston campus.

Both lectures were held in the University's Technological Institute at Sheridan Road and Noyes Street. The topics of Dr. King's mid-April 1958 talks were "The Crisis in Human Relations" and "The Christian Answer."

In his first speech, King outlined the basic causes of the crisis in human relations at the time to an overflow crowd that had gathered in Tech auditorium. He said, "Many public officials, using the power of office for irresponsible behavior, are arousing morbid fears and abnormal antipathy in the uneducated masses, leading them to violence." He pointed out that the Ku Klux Klan was using violence to discourage desegregation, drawing members from underprivileged groups who saw in the rise of the Negro a threat to their political and economic status.

At the time, Dr. King was pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., and leader of the bus segregation protest there in 1956.

At the age of 29, he had become a much-admired religious leader when he used "only the weapons of love and non-violence" in directing the bus boycott.

The Mars lecture series was established by the will of Dr. Gerhardt C. Mars, a Northwestern alumnus and former Methodist minister. Dr. Mars provided funds for a series of annual lectures on progressive Christianity. The first Mars Lecture was held in 1954. The series was combined and renamed in the 1980s as the Mars-Shaffer lectures. The funds were merged for the first time for a joint lecture series in January/February 1993 on "Progressive Christianity in a Neoconservative Age." The joint funds were used again for a conference on Christianity and the arts in May 1997.

For more information about Dr. King's 1958 talks, visit http://www.library.northwestern.edu/archives/news/archives/2008/04/15/50th_anniversary_martin_luther.html.