Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his Appreciation of Student Activists

By Janelle Cronk

‘Let nobody fool you, this movement is one of the most significant movements in the whole civil rights struggle. For you students, along with other students all over the nation, have become of age, and you are saying in substance that segregation is wrong and that you will no longer accept it and adjust to it . . . You have taken up the deep groans of the century. The students have taken the passionate longings of the ages and filtered them in their own souls and fashioned a creative protest. It is one of the glowing epics of the time and I predict that it will win—that it will have to win, because this demand is a basic American demand.’ 

- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – ‘Keep Moving from This Mountain,’ Address at Spelman College on 10 April 1960

We have been living for 50 years without Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but not a moment has passed untouched by his lasting wisdom and propensity for peace and justice. Dr. King showed great appreciation and admiration for the college students that helped propel the Civil Rights Movement. He was also successful in tapping into the energy and fervor of youth. He told students at Howard University to, ‘Remember Who You Are!!’ and challenged Barratt Junior High School students to determine, ‘What is Your Life’s Blueprint.’  

In his speech, ‘The Modern Negro Activist,’ Dr. King celebrated students’ role in the civil rights struggle as it ‘spilled over the boundaries of the single issue of desegregation and encompassed questions of peace, civil liberties, capital punishment and others. It penetrated the ivy-covered walls of the traditional institutions as well as the glass and stainless-steel structures of the newly established colleges.’ It is through the intersectionality of causes that we can draw parallels to our own work today as SPLC on Campus clubs. As we work towards economic justice, racial justice, LGBTQ rights, immigrant rights, and voting rights; we realize the profundity of King’s words that ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ 

‘I say to you, my young friends, doors are opening to you—doors of opportunities that were not open to your mothers and your fathers – and the great challenge facing you is to be ready to face these doors as they open.’  

- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking to Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia on October 26, 1967

The student activists before you embraced this challenge and participated in sit-in’s, walkouts, and Freedom Rides that garnered national attention, as a ‘revival of social awareness spread across campuses from Cambridge to California.’ 

Dr. King frequently spoke at colleges and universities and consistently expressed his gratitude and respect for educational institutions he visited. He expressed that ‘it is always a rich and rewarding experience to take a break from the day-to-day demands of our struggle for freedom and human dignity and discuss the issues involved in that struggle with college and university students.’ 

In expressing his enjoyment towards speaking with students, Dr. King reflected that ‘I happen to feel that dialogue is mighty good and something that we constantly need, and it’s always a great tragedy when a society seeks to live in monologue rather than in dialogue.’ 

So, as we reflect upon the profundity of this day in history, let us honor Dr. King by expanding the boundaries of dialogue with the hopes of fostering a more just world. Our team at SPLC on Campus encourages you to take inspiration from the words and actions of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while finding strength in your creativity to address the issues of our day.