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Looking Back: Martin Luther King Jr. at Northwestern

On April 15 and 16, 1958, at a time of growing civil rights activism in America, King delivered two lectures at Northwestern University.

EVANSTON, Ill. --- “The old doctrine of an eye for an eye and a lick for a lick leaves everybody blind. Somebody must break the chain.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

On April 15 and 16, 1958, at a time of growing civil rights activism in America, King delivered two lectures on progressive Christianity as a guest speaker at an annual lecture series at Northwestern University, according to materials maintained by University Archives.

Two years after directing the 1956 bus segregation protest in Montgomery, Alabama, King spoke before a rapt crowd of students at Northwestern’s Technological Institute.

They came to hear the man billed as “one of the most admired religious leaders in the world” talk about the need for nonviolence and social change.

He also cited the need for international policy changes that address disarmament and suspension of nuclear tests.

No known copies of King’s lectures survived. The Daily Northwestern reported that the civil rights leader suggested that “non-violent resistance being used by Southern desegregationists could conceivably be applied to foreign relations.”

“In the field of foreign relations, we no longer have a choice between non-violence and violence, but between non-violence and non-existence,” King said, according to The Daily Northwestern article that ran April 17, 1958.

In the South, non-violence was gaining ground and attention, he continued.

“The majority of Southern youth are more liberal than their parents and grandparents. They are more willing to listen and discuss questions involved.”

“Years ago textbooks and churches condoned segregation, and people grew up in an atmosphere of segregation,” King said, according to the Daily report. “But now there is a greater exposure to the modern world and ideas.”

Rejecting violence as a means of achieving social change, King went on;

“History is replete with the bleached bones of nations and communities who refused to follow the precept: Lay down your arms. ... The Negro’s only defense is to meet every act of illegality and immorality by remembering there are hundreds of thousands ready to take their place beside him as victims.”