Manchester University / Alumni / Remembering MLK's visit

Remembering MLK’s visit

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He apologizes, first of all, for the passage of time. Fifty years can sometimes draw a shade over even the most momentous of occasions.

But five decades after Martin Luther King Jr.’s visit to what was then Manchester College, Steve Stone ’69 still remembers a lot. And lives much more.

“I remember his charm, his presence,” says Stone, who, as Manchester’s student body president, was among a group of Manchester officials who ate lunch with King that February day in 1968. “I remember his charisma. I remember sitting in his presence.”

There was also this: “I remember Paul Hoffman, the dean of students, reported to me they had five death threats against King that day in North Manchester,” Stone says.

But if one of the things Stone doesn’t recall are the exact words King spoke to the Manchester student body that day, he does remember the impact they had. They reverberate to this day, not only as part of the Manchester culture but in Stone’s own life.

Fifty years after that day, for instance, Stone – a Church of the Brethren pastor living in Lexington, Ky., with his wife of 49 years, Jane Bowman ’69 Stone – sits on the board of Lexington’s Black Church Coalition, a consortium of nine primarily African-American churches. He was involved for five years in building integrated housing in formerly all-white neighborhoods. And after King left Manchester that day to keep his tragic rendezvous in Memphis, Tenn., two months later, Stone, who is white, went on to serve the next year as president of a fledgling Black Student Union.

They worked with the Admissions Office on an initiative to increase the number of African-American students, going into cities such as Gary, Fort Wayne and Indianapolis to talk to minority students. On campus, they put on an event called Forum ’69, in which classes were dismissed for the day and speakers from Fort Wayne, Gary, Indianapolis and South Bend addressed the students. They put on an African-American style show, presented music by the Nigerian students on campus and had a day focusing on African-American culture.

“That was one thing that’s of key interest to me, is how we applied the challenge (King) brought us to life there at Manchester,” Stone says. “For instance, I had a history professor who said instead of attending his lectures he wanted me to read black historians and report to him on a daily basis. I could earn credit for my course that way. So I did that.”

If all of that was a testament to the power of King’s example, it was also an acknowledgment that there was more than just a philosophical bond between the example and Manchester’s long-standing mission of service.  Accompanying King on his visit, after all, was his associate Andrew Young, who was married to a Manchester graduate, Jean Childs ’54 Young. And Stone’s mother was a close friend of fellow Manchester classmate Frances Smith ’39 Thomas, who went on to teach music to a young woman named Coretta Scott, who would become Coretta Scott King – Dr. King’s wife.

“My mother and Coretta Scott King were both at her funeral,” Stone says.

So there are connections there, and they are deep. But perhaps not as deep as the connection between those few hours King spent on the Manchester campus, and the life Steve Stone and so many others have led since.

“I have a more focused memory both what we did on campus, and what’s happened the last 50 years,” Stone says, recalling that, a few years later, he carried a sign reading We Are Overcoming in a civil rights march. “I think there are those today who deny that we’re making significant improvement. But they don’t know how bad things were.”

By Benjamin Smith