Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1967 UC Berkeley speech replayed on Sproul Plaza

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Martin Luther King Jr.’s voice echoed down the steps of Sproul Plaza on Saturday afternoon as the speech he delivered to UC Berkeley students in 1967 was replayed in the same spot 50 years later.

The event, organized by the ASUC Student Union, commemorated the 50th anniversary of King’s speech on campus as part of the Summer of Love 50th Anniversary festival that took place along Telegraph Avenue. As the 75-minute speech played throughout the afternoon, passersby stopped to listen and reflect.

Avi Rosenzweig, a campus student affairs officer in Nanoscale Science & Engineering, said the replaying of the speech was one of only two events he had set out to attend that day.

“Think about the significance of saying this at Berkeley,” Rosenzweig said, referring to King’s condemnation of the Vietnam War, which was still ongoing when King spoke to the campus in May 1967. “This is where the weapons development was going on.”

The event also included a rededication of a famous photograph taken during King’s speech by then-UC Berkeley student and Free Speech Movement photographer Helen Nestor. The campus’s African American Studies department gifted Nestor’s photo to the ASUC Student Union in 2002, but it was recently removed during renovations of the MLK Jr. Student Union building. Nestor’s photo made its way back into the building Saturday.

For many of those who stopped to listen to King’s speech, his words, though delivered on campus half a century ago, remain relevant today.

“Racism is still very alive in the United States today. It’s very alive in California, it’s very alive in Berkeley and it’s very alive at UC Berkeley,” said Fela Thomas, Vice Chair of the Black Staff and Faculty Organization, at the event. “We feel it’s important that that be acknowledged because much like Dr. King was just saying, until this country and the people within it acknowledge a reality of a condition, we never will change it.”

For Idalia Sanchez, a first year student at UC Santa Barbara, who heard the speech as she was passing through campus, King has long been a inspiration.

“I’m gonna walk his talk,” Sanchez said. “I’m gonna try to make his word live long.”

Following King’s speech, members of the Black Staff and Faculty Organization spoke, noting, as King discussed in his speech, it is necessary to acknowledge racism in order to bring about change.

“We hope that folks walk away from today, if you weren’t already committed, committing yourselves,” Thomas said at the event. “And if you were committed, redoubling your commitment to dismantling structural racism that exists here at UC Berkeley, that exists in this city, in this state, in this country and is alive and well.”

Contact Sydney Fix at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sydney_fix.