1967: The Year Martin Luther King Visited Buffalo

HISTORIC:pictured above (L-R) Rev. Bernard Lee (who traveled with Dr. King), Supervisor George K. Arthur, Policewoman Marian Bass, Dr. King, Assistant Chief of Detectives Floyd Edwards  and Assemblyman Arthur O. Eve as they appeared on the front page of the November 16, 1967 Challenger. 

The year was 1967. Stokley Carmichael, who later became known as Kwame Ture, a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), coined the phrase “Black power” in a speech in Seattle. The Supreme Court ruled that prohibiting interracial marriage was unconstitutional. And major Black uprisings took place in Newark and Detroit, leaving death and destruction in its wake.

It was the year that civil/human rights and passionate anti-war champion Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his anti-war speech to a meeting of clergy at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4 titled, “Beyond Vietnam: Time to Break the Silence.”

And although rarely mentioned in local history, It was also the year that Dr. King visited Buffalo.

 Brought here by the University of Buffalo, he spoke to a near capacity crowd at Kleinhans Music Hall on the topic: “The Future of Integration.” Yet his loudest applause of the evening came when Dr. King said that America is more concerned with winning “an ill considered and unjust war in Vietnam than in winning the war against poverty at home.”

On his unpopular stand he stated: “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, political nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”

He met with only a handful of local African American leaders – among  them: Supervisor George K. Arthur, Challenger Editor Garfield Hinton, Challenger co-founder Assemblyman Arthur O. Eve, Policewoman Marian Bass, Chief of Detectives Floyd Edwards and

Supervisor Horace Billy Johnson.

“He was regular, friendly and easy to talk to,” recalled Arthur upon meeting Dr. King. “He had a somewhat dry sense of humor, but despite (his greatness) he felt like one of the boys.”

Unfortunately, continued Arthur, local leading Black Baptist ministers at the time were all of a sudden too “busy” and did not meet Dr. King and only a couple he said, actually came to Kleinhans.

“There were those who stayed away from him because of his stand against the War in Vietnam,” Arthur continued.   “But he was right in every situation despite his unpopular position.” The Challenger covered Dr. King’s historic visit with a front page story by then senior editor Garfield Hinton. The headline of the Thursday, November 16, 1967 edition of the paper read: “The Ballot – A Key to The Door of Freedom.”

Wrote the late, great Hinton: “In a special press conference Thursday evening at Kleinhans Music Hall, following his major address, Dr. Martin Luther King called the ballot one of the keys to the door of freedom. A voteless people is a powerless people,” he added.

“That was decades  years ago and it still is true today,” reflected Arthur. “He was essentially saying that we were not utilizing the ballot the way we should.  Today there are more Blacks in key  political positions across the country because of the ballot and Dr. King’s teachings.”

Dr. King also spoke in defense of non-violence, wrote Hinton, and although he condemned the riots, he condemned as vigorously the conditions that bring riots into being.

“Violent revolts grow out of revolting conditions, “ the Southern Christian Leadership Conference leader noted, adding that “Violence is the language of the unheard.” Summer riots he said, are caused by “winters of delay.” “Negroes” he said, did not create slavery, slums or unemployment. “If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery couldn’t stop us, the opposition we now face including the so-called White backlash will surely fail. We are going to win our freedom because both the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of the Almighty God are embodied in our echoing demands and so I can still say ‘We shall overcome.’”

 Six months later, on April 4, 1968, Dr. King was struck down by an assassin’s bullet. 

 The King was dead. 

“If he were alive today,” said Arthur “he would be saying let’s get the hell out of Afghanistan…and he would be supportive of and helping President Obama get out of Bush’s war…”-Alnisa Banks 

(This article first appeared in the   January 2011 Challenger.  At that time the US was at war in Afghanistan, Barack Obama was president and our beloved George K. was still very much with us…)