The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whose extraordinary legacy continues to be celebrated around the country brought his struggle for civil rights to the University of Hartford in 1959. King delivered a speech on "The Future of Integration" on May 7, 1959, at Hartford's Bushnell Memorial Hall, as part of the University of Hartford's Alexander S. Keller Memorial Fund Lecture Series.
The University of Hartford was just two years old at the time of King's speech, and King himself was only 30. He had already gained national fame as the leader of the 1955-56 Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott, but his historic "I Have a Dream" speech was still more than four years away.
In addition to speaking as part of the Keller Lecture Series, King met informally that day with students at the university's Hillyer College, and with editors of the student newspaper, The Callboard. In January 2006, Reid MacCluggage '62, who was Feature Editor of The Callboard, said: "I came away from that day knowing I had been in the presence of a great man. Four years before he shared his dream with the nation, he had shared it with us." MacCluggage, a former university regent and retired editor and publisher of The Day (New London, Conn.), said that "too many of us in the 1950s, the civil rights movement was only a Southern issue. Dr. King corrected that impression. Civil rights was a human issue."
After being introduced by Hillyer College President Alan S. Wilson, King began his lecture at The Bushnell by noting his fondness for the Hartford area, having worked at a nearby tobacco farm during the summer after his freshman year in college. He went on to trace the history of African Americans, from slavery, through emancipation and segregation, to the mid-1950s and the U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring segregation in public schools unconstitutional. "As a result of this decision," he said, "we stand today on the threshold of the most creative and constructive period of our nation's history."
King outlined the roles that government, religious leaders, and others should play in the fight for integration and civil rights. He urged them to act quickly and decisively, noting that "The hour is late, the clock of destiny is ticking out."
King also discussed his philosophy of nonviolent resistance. "Violence can only bring temporary victory," he said, "never permanent peace."
University of Hartford President Walter Harrison said that King's 1959 speech "forever connects this university to one of America's greatest heroes, the foremost American statesman and visionary of the 20th century."