Dr. Martin Luther King speaks in Buffalo, 1959

By Steve Cichon

Already a widely known leader in the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. visited Buffalo in December, 1959.

The Buffalo Criterion published this photo of Dr. King at Faith Baptist Church on Humboldt Pkwy on its front page during Dr. King’s visit to Buffalo in December, 1959. (Buffalo Stories archives)

In his role as Vice President of the National Baptist Sunday School and Training Union Congress, Dr. King came to Buffalo to help plan that organization’s annual national session, which was to be held in Memorial Auditorium and at UB in June, 1960.

Originally built as Temple Beth David in 1924, the worship space at 626 Humboldt Parkway has been Faith Baptist Church for more than sixty years– since 1955. Martin Luther King spoke to the congregation at First Baptist in 1959. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Dr. King spoke with The Buffalo Evening News as well as with the people of Faith Baptist Church on his visit. Some of his remarks were reported in the Thursday, December 17, 1959 edition of The Buffalo Evening News.

Dr. Martin L. King Jr. Wednesday evening told The Buffalo Evening News:

“Today in the deep South there is a collision between two strong institutions — segregation and the public schools. When and where people must make a choice between the two, it is palpably clear what the choice will be.

“The example being set in certain other states, where integration was chosen over closed schools, is influencing the thinking of white  leaders.”

The article went on to say, quoting Dr. King:

“There are dark areas and bright areas in the over-all segregation picture,” he said. “The dark portions are the concerted resistance of public officials and the bright portions are created by the rays of light coming from the outside, where we know we have the sympathy and moral support of many Americans.”

Addressing the congregation of Faith Baptist Church and expressing greetings from “behind the ‘cotton curtain’ of Alabama,” he said the bus boycott of December 1955 to December 1956 was successful and a long stride toward recognition of the Negroes’ rights. “We believed,” he said, “that it was better to walk in dignity than to ride in humiliation.”

In a spiritual message, Dr. King said:

“Man has forgotten God, though unconsciously, not intentionally. Right still is right and wrong still is wrong but we are faced with the dangerous thinking that the question of right or wrong is relative. “Everyone is trying to obey the ’11th Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Get Caught.’ We must re-discover that all reality hinges on moral foundations, every personality has dignity and worth, all men are created equal, all reality has spiritual control. “We must re-discover God and put Him at the center of our lives.'”

The people of Faith Baptist Church, 1958. Click to enlarge. (Buffalo Stories archives)

More on Martin Luther King in Buffalo:

Martin Luther King addressed a full house at at Kleinhans Music Hall on December 9, 1967

Buffalo’s leaders urge peace following King’s assassination

Buffalo in the ’60s: Buffalo’s leaders urge peace following King’s assassination

By Steve Cichon

As Buffalo gathered to mourn the death of Martin Luther King Jr., two men who remained community leaders for parts of five decades conferred as they marched in memory.

Buffalo News archives

George K. Arthur (far right) and Arthur O. Eve (second from right) were among those in Western New York working to ensure that the April 1968 assassination of the civil rights leader wouldn’t reopen the wounds of Queen City race relations, which had barely begun to heal.

King visited Buffalo five months before he was slain in part to help promote healing following racially charged protests and rioting in Buffalo during the summer of 1967. He told an audience at UB that “we are moving toward the day when we will judge a man by his character and ability instead of by the color of his skin.”

Buffalonians of all races gathered on the plaza in front of the downtown library at Lafayette Square to remember Dr. King. Among the speakers was freshman Assemblyman Arthur O. Eve, who implored, “If you know of anyone planning violence, stop them.

“We can overcome by using our brains, talents, and abilities, and by uniting together, black and white, to achieve equal justice for all.”

“He knew his method was the right method,” Eve said of King’s strict adherence to nonviolence, “but if we do not continue his fight and struggle, his death will have been in vain.”

Barely a year on the job in Albany when this photo was taken, Eve served another 34 years in the Assembly. He was deputy speaker from 1977 to 2002.

George K. Arthur was on Erie County’s board of supervisors, was Ellicott District councilman, and was president of the Common Council from 1984 to 1996. He later served as secretary of Buffalo’s financial control board.

Making room for Dr. King’s dream to live on

By Steve Cichon

Of course, Dr. King was talking specifically about race when he hoping for a country where we judge someone on their character– what is in their heart and how they let that shine forth– rather than the color of their skin.

But my dream expands that a little.

What if we started to look into the hearts of everyone we encounter, instead of judging them by some group they belong to? If we want America to continue to be great, we have to stop thinking that because someone doesn’t look like us, or doesn’t agree with us on an issue, that they are terrible and need to be crushed.

The country I want to live in, and the country I think Dr. King dreamed of, is one where we look past our racial, political, religious, geographical, and economic differences…

A place where we look into the hearts and souls of people of every race… every religion… every political, sexual, and economic persuasion… and we find good-hearted smart people to help us build a good-hearted smart America that brings together all of us into a place where anyone can succeed and feel welcome and not feel the hatred of another because of the color of their skin or the people they choose to love or the way they worship or the amount of money they have in the bank or the place they live or the political party they belong to…

But also that we find space in our good hearts to make room for acknowledging the hardships and struggles that so many have to overcome to even get to the starting line, let alone run the race.

Because this is America, you have the right to carry hate in your heart… but it’s not the best way.

God Bless Martin Luther King and his dream for his people and all Americans and all humans everywhere.

–Martin Luther King Day (observed) 2016