The Greater Derby Chronicles:
Leadership - Villanova University And
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
April 4, 2018
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is seen here speaking at
Villanova University on January 20, 1965.
Today is a day filled with joy and a day of great sadness.
Sometimes, human life works that way.
Joy and sadness can inhabit the same space.
For many of the people of Upper Darby, of Delaware County, and of the entire Delaware Valley, today is a day filled with joy. The Villanova University Men’s Basketball Team has just won the title game in the NCAA Division I Finals. Team members returned to Philadelphia from San Antonio, Texas, yesterday afternoon. Tomorrow, the Wildcats will be feted with a parade in Center City Philadelphia.
But today is also the 50th anniversary of the assassination of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King was in Memphis to advocate on behalf of sanitation workers. His words from the night before – words that spoke of him reaching the mountain top and seeing the promised land – have been seen by many as a foreshadowing of what would happen fifty years ago today.
You’ll likely read, hear, and see news stories detailing these two events.
The overwhelming joy of the young men chasing a ball down a court. Young men who are student athletics. Young men who have shown leadership on and off the court. At Villanova and beyond.
The enveloping of great sadness as people reflect on the murder of one man. One man who helped change a nation. One man who showed leadership throughout the nation. Including at Villanova.
What you may not know is that the leadership of Villanova University can be seen through both those young men and that one man.
Leadership comes in many forms. Sometimes, we don’t always recognize that leadership in students.
Members of the Villanova University Men’s Basketball Team are student athletes.
The team has a 100% graduation success rate among its members.
In the case of basketball players, the immediate leadership attributes involve running, dribbling, passing, and throwing an orange-colored ball on a wood court.
Beyond the court, leadership involves these basketball players reading, writing, listening, and learning as students at a University that prides itself on graduating its students. These student athletes not only help themselves through their leadership, but they also serve as role models for others who strive to do their best.
In the case of Dr. King, his leadership began early. As a student. In Chester.
According to The King Center, Martin Luther King attended a meeting at the Fellowship House in Philadelphia in the Spring of 1950. At that time, he was a student at Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester. At the Fellowship House, he heard a speech from the President of Howard University, Dr. Mordecai Johnson. Dr. Johnson spoke of a man from India – Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.
Gandhi was a man who spoke of and practiced non-violence as he sought freedom for the people of India.
According to The King Center, Martin Luther King listened intently to the speech by Dr. Johnson. “He was so profoundly moved that he bought ‘a half-dozen books’ about the Indian nonviolent revolutionary,” stated The King Center.
He was a man who spoke of and practiced non-violence as he sought freedom for the people of India.
According to The King Center, Martin Luther King listened intently to the speech. “He was so profoundly moved that he bought ‘a half-dozen books’ about the Indian nonviolent revolutionary,” stated The King Center.
Through the years, Dr. King used the techniques of non-violence to advocate for the rights of Americans to be treated with respect, dignity, and equality.
African Americans in particular, but all Americans overall.
Dr. King brought his message to Villanova University on January 20, 1965.
Dr. King came to speak at Villanova University at the invitation of the Villanova Student Government Association. His speech was entitled “The Challenge of a New Age.”
Four thousand people – many of whom were students – filled the Villanova Field House to hear Dr. King speak about America and its unfinished promise. Another estimated 1,000 people stood outside because there wasn’t enough room in the Field House.
In his speech, Dr. King spoke of the need for a “massive public works program…and a great retraining program” to help African Americans “fight the problems of automation,” according to a news article in the Philadelphia Daily News on January 21, 1965. This news article reported that Dr. King stated that “automation is a great benefit to the Nation as a whole, but a curse to the” African American workers.
The Leader Times of Kittanning on January 21, 1965, reported that Dr. King stated that 2 million African Americans were registered to vote in the South as of January of 1965 – “some 800,000 more than 1960.”
Dr. King stated that 4 million additional African Americans of voting age were not yet registered in the South as of that date, according to a news article in The Lebanon Daily News on January 21, 1965.
On the same date, the Delaware County Daily Times reported in a news article that Dr. King called “the idea that time will solve the problem [of housing and job discrimination] ‘a myth’.” This news article reported that Dr. King stated that “Time is neutral. It can be used constructively or otherwise.”
“Legislation can’t make anyone love me but it can stop him from lynching me,” continued Dr. King.
“It is not enough to integrate lunch counters if we do not deal effectively with housing, jobs, and education,” stated Dr. King, according to a news article in The Philadelphia Inquirer on January 21, 1965.
The building where Dr. King spoke at Villanova University was home to the basketball games played by the men’s team up until 1986. Earlier this season, for the first time in 31 years, a men’s basketball game was played in this building – now known as the “Jake Nevin Field House”. The Villanova Wildcats hosted the University of Pennsylvania Quakers on November 29, 2017.
The young men of both teams chased a ball up and down the court in the same building where 4,000 people listened to the words of Dr. King 52 years earlier.
The day of the speech by Dr. King at Villanova University was also Inauguration Day. President Lyndon Johnson was sworn into office for a full term on January 20, 1965. President Johnson had assumed the Presidency upon the assassination of President John F Kennedy about 15 months earlier.
To put the efforts of Dr. King into perspective, consider that just about 8 years before Dr. King spoke at Villanova University, The Gettysburg Times reported that “an unexploded bomb was found smoldering on the front porch” of the house – unoccupied at the time – owned by the King family in Montgomery, Alabama. This news article printed on January 28, 1957, explained that the bomb included 12 sticks of dynamite.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King in 1964.
In 1964, Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership in the efforts to change the United States through non-violence.
One of the campaigns of non-violence Dr. King helped to lead to help change this nation took place in Dallas County, Alabama. This county was reportedly about 60% African American in 1965. According to The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University, only 2% of African Americans in Dallas County were registered to vote. Not because they chose not to register to vote, but because they were denied the right to vote enjoyed by other American citizens.
Two days before Dr. King spoke at Villanova University, full-scale implementation began of this campaign to register American citizens as voters in Dallas County.
Dozens of people wanting to register to vote were arrested on that first day of the campaign. They had tried to enter the Dallas County Courthouse. Under orders by the Dallas County Sheriff that day, none of those individuals gained entry to a public building of justice. Instead, those individuals went to jail.
Two days after speaking at Villanova University, Dr. King returned to Dallas County to continue the voter registration campaign.
By the end of February of 1965, approximately 3,000 American citizens were arrested for trying to register to vote in Dallas County.
Six weeks after speaking at Villanova University, on March 7, 1965, local leaders in Dallas County began a march from Dallas County to Montgomery – the state capital – to highlight the need for voting rights.
Dozens were attacked by law enforcement officials.
On the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
This was the first of the marches from Selma – county seat of Dallas County, Alabama.
It was Bloody Sunday.
Dr. King came back to Selma again two days later to lead a second march from Selma. In accordance with a court order, the march only went so far. Participants returned to Selma rather than violating the court order and going to the state capital.
On March 15, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson asked the United States Congress to pass a voting rights law. The President called Selma a turning point in our nation’s history.
On March 21, 1965, Dr. King and others led a march that succeeded in going from Selma to Montgomery. An estimated 25,000 gathered in front of the Alabama State Capital on March 25, 1965, demanding the right to vote by all American citizens.
The Voting Rights Act passed the United States Senate on May 26, 1965, and the United States House of Representatives on July 9, 1965. After a Joint Conference Committee to blend the two bills, both houses of the Congress approved the Voting Rights Act in the first week of August of 1965.
President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965.
President Lyndon Johnson and The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
greet each other at the signing ceremony of the
Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965.
There were many marches, speeches, campaigns, arrests, and jail stays both before and after Bloody Sunday.
His personal efforts to change the United States for the better ended on April 4, 1968, in Memphis.
Four days after the assassination of Dr. King, Mrs. Coretta Scott King took his place and walked with the sanitation workers in Memphis.
Though Dr. King had died, his dream lived on that day through Mrs. King, the sanitation workers, and others.
Today, that dream endures.
The top image of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Villanova University
appeared in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin on January 21, 1965. This photo is courtesy of the
George D. McDowell Philadelphia Evening Bulletin Photographic Collection
of the Special Collections Research Center of Temple University Libraries.
The images of the Men's Basketball Team of Villanova University
and the signage of Villanova University are courtesy of Villanova University.
The photograph of Dr. and Mrs. King is courtesy of the Library of Congress, 1964.
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