Tales from the Archives: Black Leaders Visit Campus

St. Thomas junior Joe Hudson interviews Charles Evers.

As St. Thomas hosts several speakers and performers this February to commemorate Black History Month, Ann Kenne, head of special collections and archivist at St. Thomas, recalls St. Thomas' history of welcoming Black speakers to inform and engage our community. Two such speakers who visited St. Thomas in the late 1960s and early 1970s were Charles Evers and Dick Gregory.

On Oct. 15, 1968, Charles Evers visited the College of St. Thomas where he addressed a crowd of students and faculty in Murray Hall. Evers was the brother of civil rights leader, Medgar Evers, who was assassinated by white supremacists on June 12, 1963. After his younger brother’s murder, Charles Evers became the field secretary for the Mississippi branch of the NAACP - the post Medgar had held - and continued his brother’s work to advocate for civil rights in the state of Mississippi.

In his talk to the assembled group at St. Thomas, Evers addressed the progress that had been made in his home state registering black voters, but he also charged the students to “carry the message of change to the older generation to insure equality for all citizens in the future.”

Wearing an “HHH” pin, Evers also used his platform to campaign for Hubert H. Humphrey in the upcoming 1968 presidential election. In Evers opinion, the “only sane man left in the race” was Humphrey.

Dick Gregory speaks at St. Thomas in 1970.
Dick Gregory speaks at St. Thomas in 1970.

Dick Gregory, who worked closely with Medgar Evers and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., also visited campus. He was one of the first black comedians to have crossover success with white audiences. He used his satiric style of humor to confront racism and social justice issues with his audience. By the late 1960s, Gregory had moved away from his comedic career to focus full time on advocating for civil and human rights.

On March 4, 1970, Gregory brought his message to a crowd of St. Thomas students assembled in the old Armory. In his talk, Gregory spoke on a wide range of issues from racism to the Vietnam War to Native American rights. His critical view of the United States at the time led some listeners to brand him as a militant. Gregory ultimately challenged the assembled St. Thomas crowd to make dedicated commitment to solve the nation’s problems. “The only way to change this country is for you young kids to rally around morality,” he stated.