BRUNSWICK, Maine — To mark the 53rd anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s May 6, 1964, visit to Bowdoin College, the college plans to hang a commemorative plaque this summer.
King and Bayard Rustin, a fellow civil rights leader, visited Bowdoin on May 6, 1964, at the invitation of alumni involved with the Bowdoin Political Forum, a student group that organized lectures on civil rights, according to the college.
King visited an exhibit at the college’s museum of art, “The Portrayal of the Negro in American Painting,” and was due to speak to the public that evening in Pickard Theater. Publicity for the talk prompted officials to move it to nearby First Parish Church, which has a larger capacity.
A subsequent informal round-table with college students, faculty and staff, a recording of which is in Bowdoin’s George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections and Archives, was held in Main Lounge in Moulton Union, where the plaque will be installed.
“During his Main Lounge discussion, King spoke of the importance of having a coordinated campaign of civil disobedience to keep the civil rights issue in the public eye and to bring it before the conscience of the nation,” college officials said in the release. “He also addressed a range of subjects that evening, including interracial marriage, desegregation in schools, and the lack of educational and employment opportunities for African-Americans. Throughout the discussion, King stressed the importance of nonviolent protest. Violence, he said, would create more social problems than it solves.”
Calvin G. Mackenzie of Brunswick, who graduated from Bowdoin in 1967 and recently retired as professor of government at Colby College, remembers heading to the union in search of a snack and stumbling upon “the most vivid conversation of my life.”
Former New Hampshire State Rep. Wayne Burton of Durham, New Hampshire, was also there that night.
“I asked [Dr. King] what his dream had to do with me, a white kid at a mostly white college in a mostly white state,” Burton said in a statement from the college. “His eyes burned into me as much as his words when he told me that, if my conscience stopped at Maine’s border, I was less of a person than I could be. He told me that I was as responsible for what happened in Birmingham, Alabama, as I was for what happened in Brunswick, Maine.”
A recording of King’s public remarks was discovered at Bowdoin years later. The King Center in Atlanta, which holds the copyright of the recording, allows Bowdoin to make it available to the public every year during Black History Month and with the observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.