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Martin Luther King, Jr. visited Milwaukee at least two times.

Dr. Martin Luther King's visits to Milwaukee left permanent mark

As Milwaukee honors the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today, we look back at the occasions on which Dr. King spoke in Milwaukee in this story from the OnMilwaukee archives.

In his lifetime, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was known for his splendid oratorical abilities and, especially, his remarkable landmark speeches about racism, segregation, equality and other issues key issues of the Civil Rights Movement. His words have become etched into the American psyche.

Dr. King spoke in Milwaukee on a couple occasions. His first speech here was delivered on Aug. 14, 1957 at the Grand Avenue Congregational Church (now the Irish Cultural and Heritage Center), 2133 W. Wisconsin Ave.

He returned on Jan. 27, 1964 for a standing-room-only event at the Milwaukee Auditorium (now the Miller High Life Theatre). According to newspaper reports, at the Auditorium Dr. King spoke to 6,300 Milwaukeeans for about 40 minutes after holding a press conference upon his arrival at Mitchell Field.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • King encouraged people to erase two myths: "Only time can solve the problems of racial integration" and "Civil Rights legislation is not important."

  • "It may be true that you cannot legislate morality but behavior can be regulated."

  • "Law cannot change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless. ... Law cannot make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me."

  • "Time is neutral. It can be used either constructively or destructively ... We must help time and we must realize that the time is always right to do right."

  • "We have argued and discussed civil rights enough." He cautioned against getting "bogged down in the paralysis of analysis. ... This problem will not work itself out. Somebody must be dedicated. Somebody must be willing to stand up. There is a need for a sort of divine discontent."

  • "It takes a strong person to be nonviolent. It has a way of disarming the opposition. He doesn't know what to do. He doesn't know how to handle it."

  • "We will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair the stone of hope."

It is also interesting to note that the FBI reportedly contacted Marquette University on March 4, 1964, asking that the school not to bestow an honorary degree on Dr. King. He was, they said, affiliated with communists.

After King's assassination in April 1968, 15,000 people marched through the streets of Downtown Milwaukee. It remains the largest civil rights demonstration in city history and was among the biggest in the country at the time.


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