Historical Markers
Martin Luther King, Jr. Historical Marker
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Martin Luther King, Jr.

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
Crozer-Chester Medical Center, One Medical Center Blvd., Upland

Dedication Date:
July 27, 1992

Behind the Marker

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The Crozer Theological Seminary, Upland, PA, circa 1910.
On his arrival at Chester's Crozer Theological Seminary in 1948, Martin Luther King, Jr. discovered that he was one of only eleven black students. Determined not to confirm racial stereotypes, he recalled, "I was grimly serious for a time." Nevertheless, he soon made the transition from Atlanta, with the help of Reverend J. Pius Barbour, the pastor of Calvary Baptist. A family friend, Reverend Barbour, like King, had attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, and then gone on to study at Crozer, where he was the first black graduate. King frequently ate at the Barbours' home and served as a student pastor at his church.

Black and white photograph of civil rights leaders in suits seated around a conference table with papers in front of them.
Meeting of Civil Rights leaders at the N.A.A.C.P. headquarters in New York,...
After struggling during his first year, King graduated as first in his class and class president in 1951, having overcome his reputation for aloofness. His three years at Crozer also proved critical in the development of his thinking. Taking advantage of an arrangement with the University of Pennsylvania he audited courses on the philosophy of history, esthetics, and Kant. From a study of Walter Rauschenbusch's writings on the Social Gospel, he decided that theology could be used as a basis to alleviate "social evil." He rejected, however, Rauschenbusch's "cult of inevitable progress," which he tempered by drawing on Reinhold Niebuhr's writings on man's need for salvation from a personal God.

In November 1949, A. J. Muste, the executive director of the pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation, gave a lecture at Crozer which "deeply moved" King, but failed to convince him of the "practicability" of pacifism. However, in the spring, he began to take pacifism more seriously after hearing Dr. Mordecai Johnson, the president of Howard University, speak about Mahatma Gandhi at Philadelphia's Fellowship House, an inter-faith and inter-racial community center with Quaker roots. Finding Johnson's message "profound and electrifying" King became "deeply fascinated" with Gandhi.

Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks to a crowd at Penn State University
Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks to a crowd at Penn State University, January...
Using a fellowship from Crozer, King enrolled in Boston University, where he completed his doctorate in 1955, and then moved with his new wife Coretta felt King to Montgomery, Alabama, where he accepted the pastorate at Dexter Avenue Baptist. Shortly after their arrival, King led the bus boycott sparked by Rosa Parks, attracting the attention of Philadelphia's markerAmerican Friends Service Committee (AFSC) which sent a delegation to Montgomery, and markerBayard Rustin, who furthered King's commitment to non-violence. Impressed by King's approach, they would support him in many activities and in 1959 arranged for his trip to India to visit the places and people associated with Gandhi. A former recipient of the award, the AFSC also nominated King for the Nobel Peace Prize, which he would win in 1964.

Attorney Cecil B. Moore addresses a group of civil rights protestors during the campaign to integrate Girard College, 1965.
Attorney Cecil B. Moore addresses a group of civil rights protestors during...
In 1963, King helped A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin organize the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which became a turning point in the growing civil rights struggle. Under Samuel L. Evans' leadership, Philadelphia sent the largest contingent, some 42,000 participants, transported in 500 buses and a reserved train. York and other Pennsylvania cities also sent buses. The march provided the setting for King's closing "I Have a Dream" speech, which included the line "Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania."

King's leadership also helped inspire other Pennsylvanians to participate in the Civil Rights movement. In 1964, students from Bryn Mawr College participated in the Mississippi Freedom Summer to encourage black voter registration, and in 1965 C. Dolores Tucker headed the Philadelphia delegation to the Selma-Montgomery march. During these years King attracted further northern support as a guest speaker. In 1961, he spoke at markerLincoln University southwest of Philadelphia and in January 1965, in the midst of the Selma campaign, at Villanova and markerPenn State.

As King made progress in the South, civil unrest erupted in the northern cities. During July and August 1964, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and Pennsylvania all experienced race riots. In North Philadelphia, a riot claimed two lives and injured 339 black residents and police officers. The following spring, King began his northern campaign. After stops in New York and Boston, King arrived in Philadelphia to dedicate the new Bright Hope Baptist Church, where he criticized churches for acting as "taillights rather than headlights of the civil rights movement."
Martin Luther King, Jr. standing and speaking into a microphone.
Martin Luther King, Jr., delivering a speech outside the wall of Girard College,...

Plans for a summer northern tour alarmed New York's Adam Clayton Powell, who warned King to go only to cities lacking "real Negro leadership, like Chicago, Cleveland, and Washington." Also uneasy, Cecil Moore, the leader of the Philadelphia NAACP, charged that those who planned to bring King back to Philadelphia that summer were "appeasers, social climbers and whites who have contributed the $20,000 Dr. King has taken out of Philadelphia without accounting."

Despite Moore's outbursts, Samuel A Evans brokered a compromise, including Moore in King's schedule. Arriving on August 1, King stopped at markerGirard College, where Moore had been leading protests challenging its refusal to admit blacks. He also addressed a breakfast meeting at Fellowship House, the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, and a number of large rallies. In addition, King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference extended Operation Breadbasket, led by Jesse Jackson, to several northern cities including Philadelphia. This program boycotted companies failing to provide adequate black employment and had been adopted from a "selective patronage" project developed by Philadelphia's Reverend Leon Sullivan, who had recently launched the markerOpportunities Industrialization Centers.

After King's assassination on April 4, 1968, 110 cities experienced "racial violence" including seven in Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Aliquippa, West Chester, Lancaster, Braddock, and Johnstown. King's legacy and memory would live on in Pennsylvania after his death. In 2006, Penn State dedicated a marker commemorating his 1965 Rec Hall speech, cancelled classes on Martin Luther King Day for the first time, and hosted Reverend Jesse Jackson, who used the occasion to criticize empty ceremonies and urged students to push for social justice.
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