TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – The country is celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day Monday, but Tuesday marks a day connecting the civil rights icon with Kansas.
On January 19, 1968, King spoke at Kansas State University. He talked about the future of integration at Ahearn Fieldhouse. One of the people in attendance was Steve Powers.
Powers, now 67, was in ninth grade at Manhattan Junior High School. He said one thing stuck out to him about how King spoke.
“The man just knew how to command an audience,” Powers said.
King talked to 7,000 people, many of whom were K-State students.
“I get out and I get around the colleges and universities of our country, and I get to talk with many of the young people, and I must honestly say to you that my hope is always renewed,” King said to the crowd. “I think that you who sit today under the sound of my voice may well have the answer.”
Powers said he was at the speech because his social studies teacher, Mr. Hooper, believed civics is happening every day, so he let his students miss class and write a one page paper on significant events like this one.
“To allow you to go to participate, or at least observe these talks, was incredible,” Powers aid.
Powers said he also went to hear a speech given by Robert Kennedy at K-State two months later. Both King and Kennedy were killed later that year.
Within a seven month stretch between 1967 and 1968, K-State not only hosted King and Kennedy but many other notable names. The list includes future President Ronald Reagan, Michigan Governor George Romney, and future Vice President Nelson Rockefeller.
Powers lives in Seattle now, but said it’s easy to be taken back to Manhattan, Kansas in the late ’60s.
“Every time I see some mention of Dr. King, I do remember, wow it was really incredible that I got to see the man,” Powers said.
The speech was King’s last on a college campus before his assassination in April 1968. You can view the text of the speech here.