Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr in Grosse Pointe

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr in Grosse Pointe

I was seven years old on March 14, 1968, when the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. came to my hometown. As I sat in my living room, Dr. King drove to Grosse Pointe High School with the police chief in his lap. When the chief heard the car might be shot at on the way to the speech, he insisted on sitting on the reverend’s lap to protect him. [Why don’t any of the articles about this event mention his name? A guardian angel in a long black Ford.]

At the high school, protesters surrounded the building and hecklers frequently interrupted the speech. Dr. King said later that, “ [it was] the worst heckling I have ever encountered in all my travels.” A number of people, however, welcomed the Reverend with enthusiasm. Dr. King received an ovation several minutes long when he entered the hall and the audience interrupted his speech not only with jeers, but with applause – a reported 32 times.

Reading about the event as an adult, I’m saddened, but not entirely ashamed of my neighbors. It was members of the Grosse Pointe Human Relations Council who invited Dr. King to speak. They were part of a growing movement of local residents who were committed to racial equality.

I realize now that I was one of the lucky ones. My father was active in city politics, where he worked for civil rights with the Access to Justice campaign and helped elect the first black mayor of Detroit. It wasn’t until much later in my life that I came to understand the significance of that day and the events that surrounded it. I think about how far we have come and how far we still have to go.

(see comment for an update)

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Transcript: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Grosse Pointe Speech