The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is best remembered as a civil rights leaders whose Aug. 28, 1963, “I have a dream ... ” speech inspired a generation. In it, he challenged the crowd of 300,000 in Washington, D.C., to pursue a society in which people are judged not for the color of their skin but for the content of their character.
But on April 4, 1967, King delivered another speech at New York City’s Riverside Church — and in it he was just as impassioned in calling for an end to the Vietnam War.
“We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation,” King said in the “Beyond Vietnam” speech. “The choice is ours and — though we might prefer it otherwise — we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.”
His words echoed Monday morning through the Memorial Union Ballroom at Oregon State University, where the 300 people in attendance observed the national holiday at OSU’s 30th annual Peace Brunch.
Keynote speaker Robert Thompson, an African-American studies professor in OSU’s ethnic studies department, said the New York peace speech signaled a moment in King’s intellectual journey where his “stance on nonviolence became more assertive.” There, King spoke precisely on the U.S. role in fostering what Thompson called the “triplets of misery”: racism, economic inequality and American imperialism.
Thompson called for a moratorium on King’s famous “I have a dream” line, because he said he felt the phrase has lost both its meaning and power in the decades since King’s death.
“Those words have been served to us cheaply,” he said.
In his remarks, OSU President Ed Ray reflected on the April 1967 peace speech by acknowledging that King knew he would spark controversy with his anti-war stance. Ray said he wondered if King felt a sense of urgency with his words; King was assassinated exactly a year later in Memphis.
“We need to sustain this struggle,” Ray said.
Ray commended those whose efforts keep the annual Martin Luther King Jr. observance thriving. He cited Saturday’s Day of Service as an example of the observance’s evolution: 150 volunteers contributed a total of 400 hours of community service.
OSU was one of the first universities in the nation to cancel classes in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The university also honored King’s birthday years before all 50 states observed the holiday.
The full house at the Memorial Union pleased organizers, who had worried that the snow that covered Corvallis on Monday morning would keep many people home.
“I saw the weather and thought, ‘Oh no — is everyone going to be able to come?’” said Diane Davis, chairwoman of the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration committee.
The brunch included a performance by Outspoken, OSU’s men’s a capella group, poetry recited by OSU student Anderson DuBoise III, a traditional strolling presentation by a fraternity and sorority, and an awards presentation.
Eric Hansen, the associate director of University Housing and Dining Services, was presented with the Phyllis S. Lee Award. It is named after the former director of OSU’s Office of Multicultural Affairs. Jodi Nelson, the executive assistant to the vice provost of student affairs, was presented with the Frances Dancy Hooks Award, which is named after the civil rights activist who joined her husband at the university in 1994 to give the keynote address at the Peace Brunch.
Contact Gazette-Times reporter Gail Cole at 541-758-9510 or firstname.lastname@example.org