FLASHBACK: Dr. King visited Charleston in 1962, July 1967
CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - During the Civil Rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made two visits to the Holy City.
The first, which contains less historical documentation, came at the Emanuel AME church in 1962. King came to the church to urge members of the congregation to register to vote according to the church's website.
"I have the privilege of sharing with you and the privilege of seeing you here in such large numbers this afternoon," King said during his speech.
He spoke to an audience of approximately 3,000 who gathered on that sweltering day to see the iconic civil rights leader.
Seated on the stage were some of King's Lowcountry right-hand men, all strong backers of the movement in the Charleston area.
"I come here not as an outsider but as an insider with real associations and connections in the state of South Carolina and in Charleston," King said.
One of those connections was the late Herbert U. Fielding, who said in 2014 he knew King well.
He liked people. I don't think that I ever met anybody that Martin didn't like and they, in turn, liked him," Fielding said. "He's just an ordinary...plain old ordinary guy but smart as a whip."
Bishop Z. L. Grady sat to the right during King's speech.
"That was one of the greatest days of my life," Grady recalled in 2014. "Because the King had come."
Grady's wife, Carrie, watched from the audience.
"My husband mentioned the King had come, not thinking of the king as in the Lord Jesus Christ, but the king who during our time had walked the streets with humankind and mankind," she said.
Judge Daniel Martin, Sr., who was fresh out of law school at the time, was chosen by his pastor to sit behind King on stage. The young attorney drank in King's message, recalling that the pastor spoke without notes for an hour.
"We should peacefully use our power to vote and get the proper people in office who can help us in the Civil Rights movement: That was his basic purpose for coming," Martin said.
Anxiety lingered in the air at County Hall. False rumors had circulated around the city that King had been in town for a week looking to stir up trouble.
"It's very true that there was a lot of fear over Dr. King coming to Charleston," Historian Damon Fordham said. "You have to remember he came here on July 30 of 1967, and two weeks prior to Dr. King coming to Charleston, there were major race riots in Newark, New Jersey and Detroit, Michigan."
During the speech, King addressed those fears.
“[They] said I came to Charleston to start a riot, been here a week organizing.As much as I talk about love, I don’t see how anybody could associate me with organizing a riot,” King said. “I want to make it clear I’m not going to kill anybody. I’m not going to kill anybody here in America and I’m not going to kill anybody in Vietnam. I don’t plan to kill anybody.”
King also addressed his views on white supremacy.
"I'm not going to preach a doctrine of black supremacy because I'm so sick and tired of white supremacy," he said.
Those on the stage recalled the tense atmosphere in the room. At one point, an object fell to the floor and the moment was captured in a photo that showed a reaction from those on stage. The sound seemed to jar everyone except for King.
The only thing I remember is Martin was speaking and there was this big bang," Fielding recalled. "It sounded like a gunshot...and that's why everyone was looking in that direction. One thing I remember about that also. Martin didn't flinch. He didn't bat an eye. He just kept right on going.
Daniel Martin, that young attorney sitting on the stage, echoed Fielding's amazement at King's composure.
"As my husband said, the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord," Carrie Grady said. "He had to have a relationship with God to do what he did. A close relationship."
King left his Charleston audience with these thoughts.
"We live in America. We have to face the fact that, honestly, racial discrimination is present. So don't get complacent. We made some strides. We made some progress here and there and it hasn't been enough. It hasn't been fast enough. We still have a long, long, way to go," King said.
Though they did not know it at the time, many in the audience would be forced to carry on King's legacy. On April 4, 1968, eight months after King's visit to Charleston, he was shot to death in Memphis.
King was frequently in Charleston working with Civil Rights before his death.
Back in 2012, the family of a newspaper reporter located a 40-minute audio recording of the speech from that July day.
Laura and Birdie Crosby found the tapes in a box that had been left to them by her father, Eugene B. Sloan, a reporter for The State newspaper in Columbia. The family had never listened to the tapes until 2012, 45 years after King's visit.
The tapes revealed more of King's comments on riots that had broken out shortly before his visit to the Lowcountry. Of the July 23, 1967, riot in Detroit, he said it was the African-American community who suffered the most because of the destruction.
"So I'm not gonna give you a motto of preach philosophy burn baby burn, I'm gonna say build baby build, organize baby organize," King said.
Crosby said she believes her father was carrying his reel-to-reel recorder that day.
"I imagine my dad bought it so he could tape the important things that he had to cover and then verify his quotes," she said.
King's most famous speech, given four years earlier during the 1963 March on Washington, D.C., stirred up feelings of brotherhood. But in Charleston, the message was a piercing arrow fired at America's racism, poverty and war.
"We have a long way to go," King said. "The plant of freedom has brought only a bud, not a flower. Long way to go."
Copyright 2012, 2014, 2018 WCSC. All rights reserved.
Copyright 2019 WCSC. All rights reserved.