A visit for the history books

Maria Brachelli

Threats. Shootings. Beatings. Bombings. Imprisonments. The common thread that runs through these incidences leads to a prominent figure in civil rights history, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He suffered all these wrongs, and persevered to lead the country in a nonviolent demonstration of a necessary civil rights movement.

King was born in Atlanta Jan. 15, 1929. Influenced heavily by his parents and rooted in the African American Baptist Church, he pursued a collegiate career that focused on Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent strategy for social change and theology at various campuses that include Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania and Boston University. In 1955 King achieved a PhD in systematic theology.

King’s public demonstrations as a celebrated black leader covered a vast field of social issues: nonviolent action, economic problems, segregation, education, and equality of rights. King’s renown continued when he became Time magazine’s Man of the Year in 1963 and in 1964 he achieved a Nobel Peace Prize.

As the fourth part of the Villanova Forum and Student Government Association sponsored lecture series during the 1964-1965 school year, Martin Luther King Jr. addressed the Villanova community with his speech “The Challenge of a New Age.” At 8:00 p.m. Jan. 20, 1965, four thousand people packed the Field House, and another thousand were not permitted entrance to the speech because of the seating limitations. Reverend John A. Klekotka, O.S.A., the University President at the time, and Thomas J. Furst, the Student Body President, VUA, introduced Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Talking about the history altering advances being attained by the civil rights activists, King passionately spoke to Villanovans, “If man has not discovered there are some things he is willing to die for, he is not fit to live.” A great inspiration and motivator, King discussed topics pertinent to non-violence, segregation and equal rights. Reportedly, Dr. King was warmly embraced by the standing-room-only crowd that gave him a standing ovation at the conclusion of his unscripted speech.

Dr. King’s work was always viewed as controversial as he openly opposed several national political leaders. In 1967, King publically criticized the United States intervention in the Vietnam War. He was also not held in high favor amongst black nationalists who were vehemently opposed to King’s nonviolent policies.

Three years later, April 4, 1968, Villanovans mourned King’s assassination. In March of 1968, Villanovans celebrated King’s accomplishments in the civil rights movements with a prayer March.