THE DAY KING CAME TO BUFFALO
Several months before he was assassinated, Dr. Martin Luther King visited Buffaloon November 9, 1967 at the invitation of the Student Association at UB. He spoke at Kleinhans Music Hall to a full house, and as former Council President George K. Arthur recalls, few African Americans were in attendance. In fact it was only he and several others, including former Deputy Speaker Arthur O. Eve, Horace Billy Johnson, Police Captain Marian Bass, and Police Captain Floyd Edwards, who met with him. The late Garfield Hinton, the Challenger’s brilliant Senior Editor at the time, was also part of that group, and covered the historic event.
Following are excerpts from Mr. Hinton’s 1967 report.
By GARFIELD HINTON
In a special press conference Thursday evening at Kleinhans Music Hall, following his major address, Dr. Martin Luther King called the ballot one of the keys to the door of freedom. A vote-less people is a powerless people, he added. Dr. King called not just for desegregated schools but also for integrated quality education. Dr. King disavowed any personal interest in running for the presidency, and expressed no hope that a third party candidate could win a national election. He did say however, that a peace candidate who gives voters an alternative could win the election. Referring to Negro servicemen in Vietnam, Dr. King noted that Negroes are 11% of the American population; 24% of the Vietnam and almost 50% of the combat troops there. On proposed cuts in the antipoverty program Dr. King commented that it is too bad that Congress at this time is playing with poor and engaging in a kind of political guerilla warfare thus inviting social disaster. Dr. King said also that to put 275,000 young people in Headstart Programs; 250,000 in Neighborhood Job Corps programs; 90,000 in other anti-poverty programs out in the street will be an invitation not only to summer riots but to winter riots as well.
Dr. King said that the election of Carl Stokes as Mayor of Cleveland and Richard Hatcher as Mayor of Gary will give the Negro new hope in his struggle to become a first class citizen. Earlier addressing a near-capacity audience on “ The Future of Integration” Dr. King, neatly attired in a blue suit and tie, white shirt and black shoes, began by briefly outlining highpoints in the history of the Negro in America… Summer riots are caused by winters of delay, Dr. King observed, continuing, Negroes did not create slavery, slums, unemployment.
Then Dr. King explained why the Negro’s struggle today is more difficult than it was 3 or 4 years ago. “ It is one thing to take the whip from Bull Connors or Jim Clark but it is another thing to say to a man that he should not be poverty stricken or that he should havequality education or that he should be able to live next door to you. A lot of peoplewere outraged by the way we were treated. They were against segregation and brutality but not for genuine equality for the black man.”
“It is easier to integrate lunch counters than to eradicate slums. It is easier to guarantee the right vote than an annual income. We are in a period that is going to cost the nation something.” Dr. King specifically suggested $20 billion a year for the next 2 years.
The loudest applause of the evening came when Dr. King said that America is more concerned with winning, what I consider, an ill considered and unjust war in Vietnam than in winning the war against poverty at home. He contrasted an expenditure of $500,000 to kill an enemy soldier in Vietnam with $53.00 a year in the so-called war against poverty. Dr. King bemoaned the fact that Negro soldiers fight in Vietnam only to return home to various types of discrimination. That is why many Negro servicemen re-enlist, he explained.
Explaining his views on Vietnam, Dr. King stated: “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, politic nor popular, but he must take it becauseconscience tells him it is right.” Winding up his powerful address, spoken without notes, Dr. King concluded: “If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery couldn’t stop us, the opposition we now face including the so-called White backlash will surely fail. We are going to win our freedom because both the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of the Almighty God are embodied in our echoing demands and so I can still say ‘We Shall Overcome!’ ”