Dr. Martin Luther King spoke in Minnesota three times during his lifetime, said Dr. Yohuru Williams, distinguished professor of history and founding director of the Racial Justice Initiative at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, when giving his keynote address to attendees at the inaugural Achieving the Dream Conference. The event kicked off the 38th annual state of Minnesota MLK Jr. Day celebrations and included remarks by Minnesota's first lady Gwen Walz, wife of Gov. Tim Walz.
Williams, author of the book More Than a Dream: The Radical March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, emphasized the importance of hearing all of Dr. King’s message, which continues to echo in today’s racial justice efforts.
The first time King arrived in Minnesota, he came at the invitation of Grace Lutheran Church in 1957, just after the end of Montgomery bus boycott. The second time he came was in January 1963. This is before the March on Washington, so he's still not the national figure that he would become, Williams said. And the last time that he came was April 27, 1967.
He said people often wanted to see the issues King discussed as a Southern problem, but “this is a national problem and Minnesota has a place in that conversation.”
“In order for us to talk about what it means to be ‘One Minnesota,’ we have to confront not only the distant history of our racial past but the challenges of our present,” Williams said.
“Part of the challenge with the American people is what Americans always want is a tragedy with the happy ending,” Williams added. “We have a sitcom understanding of our history. We want everything wrapped up in 30 minutes with commercials. When you’re looking for that tragedy with a happy ending, you miss the fact that there’s tension in Dr. King’s messages. It gets real uncomfortable real fast when you have to read the whole thing.”
One passage from King that Williams recited to attendees was regarding King saying we must not get comfortable, we must be “maladjusted until the good society is realized.”
“I never intend to adjust myself to segregation and discrimination," King said. "I never intend to become adjusted to a religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few, leaving millions of people smothering in an air-tight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism and the self-defeating effects of physical violence.”
“That's the Dr. King you should quote on your Facebook page,” Williams said. “That’s the meme Dr. King.”
There are many books and films discussing King, as well as recordings of King's speeches to help people better understand his mission.
“I would recommend all of you watch this one piece that TPT did on Dr. King's visits to Minnesota because that speech is damning in a lot of ways about the way that we imagined where we sit in conversations about racial justice,” said Williams.