ECU Honors The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Letter from a Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963.

Ebony Herald: Happy Birthday
Identifier: UA50.05.05

Click here to earn more and visit ECU Digital Collections


The tragic death of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. occurred at a time in which East Carolina University, like many other institutions, was struggling with its on issues of racial equality and civil rights on campus.  The death of the civil rights movement leader and icon greatly impacted an ECU student body that was undertaking their own fight for equality and racial justice on campus. In the days following Dr. King’s passing, the impact and importance of his life and lessons were best seen when a group of students, both African-American and white, voiced their displeasure over the lack of tribute from the institution to Dr. King by confronting Chancellor Dr. Leo Jenkins at his home. During the confrontation, students demanded that the campus flags be lowered to half-mast in honor of Dr. King but Dr. Jenkins explained that he did not have the authority to make such a decision and that he would place a call to the Governor’s office. The flags were ultimately lowered later that day and campus avoided any of the violent confrontations that were taking place in cities throughout the country.

In the years following Dr. King’s death but prior to his birthday being declared a federal holiday, ECU students continued to honor his legacy with demonstrations and events on campus on and around his birthday. Perhaps one of the most significant events on campus that helped honor Dr. King’s legacy was a visit by his widow, Corretta Scott King, who served as the keynote speaker for the 1982-1983 ECU Black Arts Festival on January 31, 1983. The event was celebrated by the ECU chapter of the NAACP and was also meant to commemorate the anniversary of the 1960 Greensboro sit-in.

Ebony Herald, January 1983
Identifier: UA50.05.05.20

Click here to earn more and visit ECU Digital Collections

During her speech, King explained that throughout her travels, she had met thousands of individuals who were committed to continuing the work of her late husband and that these individuals had given her great strength and comfort during these difficult times. King also reflected on the work her husband dedicated his life to and told those in attendance that “the time had come for all people black and white, young and old, native Americans, women, peace groups, and others to come together to chart a new nonviolent course.” She ended her remarks to the ECU community by reminding everyone in attendance that they were “connected by what she called an inescapable network of mutuality and that if we are to live the complete life exhibited by her husband, we must reach up and discover God.” King invited all to join her at the “I have a dream celebration” that she and her organization were planning to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington and Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. On November 2, 1983, ten months after her speech on ECU’s campus, Coretta Scott King stood alongside President Ronald Reagan as he signed into law the bill that created a federal holiday honoring Dr. King.

The following year, the ECU Chapter of the NAACP held its third annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration, the first campus celebration since Dr. King’s birthday had been recognized as a federal holiday. During the celebration, several members of ECU’s African-American fraternities and sororities reflected on what Dr. King’s life, his work, and his legacy meant to them and the nation 16 years after his death. Dr. King’s birthday was also celebrated with a special edition of The Ebony Herald, the minority publication of ECU. The Ebony Herald staff dedicated a beautiful column to the civil rights leader which stated, “to us Martin Luther King was not just a man who took a stand for civil rights. He was a humanitarian who in time of racial unrest calmed the people and directed them to a united goal of equality. This equality was not just for black people, but as he said, for all God’s children.” The column ended by encouraging its readers to “keep the dream alive.”

The staff of Joyner Library Special Collections joins the rest of the ECU community in remembering and honoring the life and legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.