Revisiting forgotten images from MLK's 1962 visit to U-M

Martin Luther King sitting in a chair talking to a group

David Erdody

"Parents and grandparents are the best history teachers," writes former U-M staff member David Erdody.

"My parents were big supporters of MLK and they played a very important role in raising me on the right side of history when it came to civil rights."

When he was a young child, David's grandmother told him about the times she met Martin Luther King, Jr. at Detroit Central Methodist Church.

Dr. King preached at the historic church located in downtown Detroit many times during his lifetime, including a last sermon just two weeks before his untimely death in 1968.

His grandmother's stories had a lasting impact on the young David, inspiring a search many years later that yielded a surprising discovery.

"When I first came to work for the U-M in 1988, Dr King's birthday had just become national holiday."

"In 2010, I began to volunteer at the U-M Bentley Historical Library and soon after was hired as a temporary employee.

"On January 9th of 2012, when Dr. King's birthday was approaching, I was curious if I could find any evidence that Dr. King (had ever) visited the U-M."

After searching the Bentley Library database, David found about 100 documents and archival material relating to King. While 99 of those results could not confirm King's U-M visit, one result-a series of photo negatives-did.

Historic visit documented in The Michigan Daily archives

After consulting with President emeritus James Duderstadt, who in turn consulted public policy student Joseph Lichterman, then editor of The Michigan Daily. The Michigan Daily archives from 1962 confirmed MLK's visit to U-M 50 years earlier.

During his visit, Dr. King gave two public presentations at Hill Auditorium. In the afternoon he lectured on "Moral Issues in Discrimination" and in the evening he gave a speech entitled "What Does the Negro Citizen Want?" The talks were sponsored by the Office of Religious Affairs.

Dr. King also hosted a discussion on civil disobedience with a small group at the Michigan Union sponsored by the Michigan Union Special Projects Committee. The discussion included representatives from U-M sororities, fraternities and other housing units. King attended a luncheon at the University before his presentations.

In a 2012 Michigan Daily article about the found images, President Emeritus Duderstadt explained: "There apparently was a controversy because in his speech, King suggested the importance of civil disobedience, and I guess a couple of the regents raised concerns about that."

"It was a time when Martin Luther King was a pretty controversial person. The FBI was tracking him and so forth."

In The Michigan Daily article, Professor Duderstadt observed that "It's characteristic of public universitiesto either forget their history or bury it or pave over it. Every once in a while someone who is interested in history has to come along and dig it back up again."

Images brought vividly to life 50 years later

After locating the negatives in the Bentley collection, David subsequently compiled the images from Dr. King's visit to the university into the video slide presentation included here. Those images show King delivering his 1962 speech in Hill Auditorium and attending a discussion in the Michigan Union.

To honor King and commemorate his 1962 visit, those photos along with an associated narrative have been made into a permanent display on the first floor of the Michigan Union, near the Campus Information Center.

Dr. King's campus visit took place nine months before the historic August 1963 March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs where he delivered the "I have a dream" speech.

Dr. King lived for six years after his U-M campus visit before his assassination in Memphis, TN on April 4, 1968 at the age of 39.

In addition to his twenty years of service at U-M, David is the founder of Assistive Media, a nonprofit internet-based audio reading service designed for people with visual or reading impairments. He is also the founder and owner of University Press Audiobooks, a freelance producer of digital audiobooks for academic and independent trade book publishers.

Portions of this article appeared originally in an April 15, 2012 article in the Michigan Daily. See:

Also see: Spotlight: The Gift of Sound from the University Record, May 24, 2004