Yesterday's Hope, Today's Truth
This Nobel Peace Prize winner brought his message of hope to UCLA.
Published Apr 1, 2009 9:00 AM
From the files of the UCLA History Project
Under heavy guard and the gaze of television cameras, the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner stood before 4,500 students and faculty gathered near Janss Steps on April 27, 1965. He spoke about racial injustice and the evils of segregation. He asked for help. He talked about the future.
His name was Martin Luther King Jr.
The country's most famous reverend was invited to campus as part of ASUCLA's Speakers Program, which hosted notable social activists and political figures of the time. King’s hour-long speech came just one month after his successful march from Selma to the Alabama capital of Montgomery, and outlined both the accomplishments and setbacks of the civil rights movement. King also appealed to students, specifically recruiting them for a summer program that would work to double the number of blacks registered to vote in the South.
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The crowd — which filled the quad between the men's and women's gyms and stretched up into the hills along Janss Steps — remained intent as King spoke, interrupting only with an occasional thundering ovation.
"It may be true that you can't legislate integration, but you can legislate desegregation," he said. "It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me."
King warned that while progress had been made, there was no time for complacency.
"Old Man Segregation is on his deathbed," King said. "But history has proven that social systems have a great last-minute breathing power, and the guardians of the status quo are always on hand with their oxygen tents to keep the old order alive."
And he warned: "If democracy is to live, segregation must die."