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50 Years Later, Martin Luther King Continues to Inspire Penn State Community

by on January 20, 2015 7:00 AM

When Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at Penn State on Jan. 21, 1965, 50 years ago tomorrow, he told the crowd that much had been accomplished in pursuit of racial justice, but much work remained to be done.

Even now – half a century later – those words of wisdom continue to resonate with members of the Penn State community, who see the struggle for equality raging around them to this very day.

Author and social justice advocate Annie Harris and Penn State doctoral student Kate Anderson may not seem to have much in common at first glance, but looks can be deceiving. The two woman met at an event on Monday in the Pattee Library’s Foster Auditorium, where they were part of a large group that had gathered to hear a recording of King’s 50 year old speech.

Despite the differences in their age, race and backgrounds, the two woman sat in the auditorium long after the speech had ended, discussing the politics of power and how injustice continues to this day.

Harris says she actually saw King speak at Penn State back in 1965. Harris was one of 8,000 people who jammed into Rec Hall to see the civil rights leader. She says the themes of King’s speech are as relevant today as they were then. In her own personal life, she struggles against stereotypes and discrimination each and every day.

“When people look at me, they see a black person, or a woman, or someone with a developmental disability,” Harris says. “I am all three, but I am one woman.”

Each of those categorizations comes with its own set of hardships and stereotypes that she has had to work to overcome. Though Harris says America has made progress toward greater racial equality, injustice and marginalization are still faced by the disabled, by racial minorities and by woman every single day.

Anderson comes from a different world than the one in which Harris grew up, but she still sees injustice running rampant across the globe. She came to the Pattee Library on Monday in the hopes that King’s words would give her some insight into the conflicts that plague the world today.

“I’m trying to understand how we can move forward with the understanding of where we’ve come from,” Anderson says. “I wanted to revive Dr. King’s words for this day and age.”

Fifty years ago, King declared that “we need only open our newspapers and turn on our televisions, and we see with our own eyes that this problem is still with us.” Harris muses that were King still alive, he might have uttered this exact same sentence today.

Anderson knows that the world has come a long way since King first spoke to Penn State in 1965, but in some ways, it seems like nothing’s changed. Racial tension is a common topic in the media in the aftermath of the high-profile deaths of black men at the hands of police in Ferguson, MO. and New York City.

Also troubling to Anderson is what she describes as a growing anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe that was exaggerated by the terrorist attack on the Charlie Hedbo magazine in France earlier this month.

“Every generation has its own troubles. There will always be struggles to overcome together,” Anderson says. “It’s important that we keep moving forward – not with blind optimism, but with realistic optimism. There will always be a long way to go, but it’s important that we’re always working towards that together.”

You can read an entire transcript of King's 1965 speech below, courtesy of


Martin Luther King's 1965 speech at Penn State


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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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