(FOX40.COM) — On Oct. 16, 1967, 56 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. visited Northern California to give a speech at Sacramento State College at a time when he was facing criticism due to his opposition to the Vietnam War.
Sacramento State College, as it was known then in 1967, was one of the few places that would give King a platform at the time, and he faced a supportive crowd of nearly 7,000 people at Campus Stadium, now known as Hornet Stadium.
According to an article on Sacramento State’s website, King spoke to a large crowd for 35 minutes, talking about issues facing African Americans including inequality in jobs, education and housing. He also mentioned in his speech that multiple Black churches in Mississippi were torched.
When King came to Sacramento, the civil rights leader was speaking at college campuses around the country and was planning the Poor People’s Campaign for the following year. The objective of the campaign was to address inequality in jobs, homes, and education for all low-income Americans.
At the time of King’s visit, the university campus was 20 years old and was five years away from joining the California State University system. The campus was known as Sacramento State College from 1947 to 1972.
It was King’s only visit to a CSU campus, according to the university.
King had become a prominent leader in the U.S. civil rights movement since the mid-1950s. He advocated for racial equality on behalf of Black communities in the South, where segregationist laws were still heavily enforced.
His famous “I Have a Dream” speech happened in front of over 200,000 people who attended the March on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963. King delivered his 17-minute speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, helping put civil rights at the forefront of the United States.
Within a year, the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
He continued to campaign for broader civil rights for all Americans, which led to his visit to Sacramento several months before his death.
How Sacramento State honors King’s legacy
King was shot fatally on April 4, 1968, as he stood on the balcony of a Memphis, Tennessee motel. He was 39 years old.
King was in Memphis supporting Black sanitation employees who were on strike, only six months after his visit to Sacramento State.
King’s visit to Sacramento was a significant moment in the university’s history and it was honored with a 50th anniversary celebration in 2017.
The celebration included two keynote addresses from PBS host Tavis Smiley and a unity march to Hornet Stadium.
The unity march included officials from the university and city including then Sacramento State President Robert S. Nelsen and Mayor Darrell Steinberg.
The unity march ended at the Broad Fieldhouse lawn near the stadium where university and community leaders dedicated a dogwood tree and plaque commemorating King’s visit.
The university also opened the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in November 2015 along with launching the MLK Scholars Program.
According to the university, the Martin Luther King Jr. Center serves as the central hub for research related to African-American heritage and culture. The scholars program aims to “ensure the success of African American students or those with an interest in African American heritage.”