On the third Monday of every January, America honors one of the great martyrs to the cause of civil rights, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. To commemorate his lifetime of commitment and sacrifice, we share with you today an audio file from the American Archive of Public Broadcasting, courtesy University of Wisconsin-Madison Archive, Steenbock Library and Wisconsin Public Radio.
The day following Dr. King’s assassination in Memphis, University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Chancellor William Sewell suspended classes to mourn the assassinated civil rights leader. That afternoon, on April 5, 1968, a huge gathering of students and faculty met at the campus’s Bascom Hill to participate in memorial services. The Madison Police Department called it “the largest mass demonstration ever held in Madison,” with an estimated total of 15,000 participants.
“It has been a long time since this whole university community has felt a loss so deeply. This man more than any other challenged the forces of hatred and bigotry. This man more than any other gave us a hope that someday this nation might rise above racism and intolerance,” spoke Chancellor William Sewell. “It would be a betrayal of America if we did not learn from his death and if we did not now pledge ourselves to carry forward the spirit and the promise of his faith.”
Black student leaders Sidney Glass, Kenny Erwin, Kenny Williamson and Clara Meek were among the speakers of the memorial service. A predominantly white audience listened to them talk about their grief, racism, the importance of black solidarity. After the students had spoken, the crowd marched up State Street and around the square on UW-Madison’s campus.
The next day, hundreds of students met in classrooms and held discussion forums led by black students. In response to Dr. King’s assassination, the university pledged to create a Martin Luther King scholarship fund “to work for the elimination of racism and racial misunderstanding on campus and within the community…”
Originally recorded on 1/4″ audio tape, the audio clip we have shared today was digitized as part of the initial 40,000 hours of content preserved in the American Archive collection.