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VOL. 133 | NO. 61 | Monday, March 26, 2018

Historic MLK Speech, Handwritten Notes Unveiled at U of M

By Michael Waddell

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From left, University of Memphis President M. David Rudd, provost Dr. Karen Weddle-West, Student Government Association vice president Kevyanna Rawls and SGA president Drew Gilmore view Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "We Shall Overcome" speech with handwritten notes at the university's Ned. R. McWherter Library on Monday, March 26.

Courtesy: University of Memphis   

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic speech ending with the three words most often associated with him and the civil rights movement – “We Shall Overcome” - are now on display inside the University of Memphis’ Ned R. McWherter Library.

The original copy of the speech, complete with handwritten notes, was officially unveiled on Monday, March 26, in a ceremony and it will remain on display through April 16 in recognition of the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination.

King delivered the historic speech to the General Synod of the United Church of Christ in Chicago on July 6, 1965.

“He noted at the outset (of the speech) that the nation had made tremendous strides in technological and scientific advances, including medical science, but when we turn to the areas of progress in race relations, Dr. King said we face one of the most shameful chapters of the American scene,” said professor Otis Sanford, the university’s Hardin Chair of Excellence in Economic and Managerial Journalism. “We went on to challenge the church to do more to promote racial justice and noted that racism is not a political issue but a moral issue.”

The speech became a rallying cry for the civil rights movement.

“The last page on display is almost entirely in his handwriting,” University of Memphis Provost Dr. Karen Weddle-West said. “It did give me chills to hold and see and feel that important piece of work and our history.”

Philanthropist Avron B. Fogelman purchased the 20-page speech at auction for $382,000 and granted the University of Memphis exclusive rights to display the one-of-a-kind artifact on campus.

“This exhibit and speech stands for a few things that are very important for (my father): civil rights, Dr. King and all of the work that he did,” said Avron’s son, Hal Fogelman, who was on hand for the event.

This is the first time the speech has been shared with the public.

When U of M president M. David Rudd found out Fogelman had purchased the speech, he called him and asked if he would be willing to lend it to the school for its MLK50 events.

“His response was immediate and emphatic, and it was ‘Yes,’” Rudd said. “He shared with me that he was especially interested in our students being able to view this historically significant speech. We think this is a unique opportunity to understand that history and its intersection with some of the issues that we struggle with today.”

He hopes to see community members and students from other schools come out to learn more about the documents.

“The hope is that we’ll have a broad array of elementary, junior high and high school kids participate,” Rudd said. “Our library staff has already reached out.”

While he was not able to attend, Avron Fogelman provided this statement: "Growing up in Memphis, I had a special feeling for what Dr. King accomplished, so I was especially pleased to have the opportunity to own this iconic speech in which Dr. King first wrote the phrase most closely associated with the civil rights movement," Fogelman said. "This is the first time I have shared this speech with the public, and I'm delighted to share it with the University of Memphis for its month-long exhibit honoring Dr. King on the 50th anniversary of his assassination.”

Upcoming university-related events happening during the anniversary of his assassination include a symposium and luncheon hosted by the U of M Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law at The Peabody hotel on April 2. The keynote address will be given by the Honorable Eric Holder, former U.S. attorney general.

On Saturday March 31, a screening of “At the River I Stand” will be held at the Halloran Centre, followed by a panel discussion moderated by Dr. Cornell Brooks, former president and CEO of the NAACP.

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