Many famous people have visited Goshen College during its 112-year history – none more famous than the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The civil right leader visited Goshen College in 1960, during his campaign for equality in the South.
Six years earlier, King had soared to national prominence by leading a boycott against the segregated bus system in Montgomery. Ala. In later years would come more protests, more arrests, the March on Washington, the “I Have a Dream” speech, the Nobel Peace Price – 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.
The Elkhart Truth and the South Bend Tribune reported that King lectured about the “sit-down” strikes against segregated restaurants that had spread to 37 cities in the South. “The strikes will arouse the dozing conscience of the South,” he accurately predicted.
King condemned police tactics used against student demonstrators and he spoke about his commitment to non-violence. 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, Ala. He also described the “Negro’s quest for freedom,” and stated that the nation faced a moral challenge.
“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. “All over the South, the Negro is rising up and saying he is determined to be free, he is tired of the yoke of oppression.”
King also said 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, according to The Truth’s story. “The basic aim of the Negro is to be the white man’s brother, not his brother-in-law,” he said.
In her book, “Culture for Service, A History of Goshen College,” author Susan Fisher Miller ’80 wrote that King’s visit “sparked a great deal of interest” on campus and spurred sustained activism against segregation.
King also appreciated his brief visit. “My only regret was that circumstances made it necessary for me to rush in and rush out,” King later wrote. “I hope the time will come when I will be able to visit the campus and spend a little more time.”
Sadly, King was assassinated eight years later in Memphis, Tenn. Like the rest of the world, Goshen College mourned.