Martin Luther King Jr., born Jan 15, 1929, whose birthday is now celebrated each third Monday in the month of January, holds a special place in memory at the University of the West Indies. On June 20, 1965, his sermon at the 1965 Valedictory Service transfixed not only the over 400 graduates, but also a crowd of hundreds more who packed the hall.
‘Facing the Challenge of a New Age’ was the title he used, speaking about the increasing interdependence of states and the need for worldwide brotherhood. He charged the audience to meet injustice with love, an ethos reflected in his efforts to advance civil rights through non-violent civil disobedience. And, in the segment most remembered by many who were there, he argued for everyone to strive to be the best that they could be:
“If it falls to our lot to be street-sweepers, sweep streets like Raphael painted pictures, like Michelangelo carved marble, like Shakespeare wrote poetry, and like Beethoven composed music. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well’.”
Professor Emeritus Patrick Bryan, retired UWI historian and then a graduating student, remembers that hearing Dr King, who spoke fluently, without notes, was “an incredible experience.”
You can listen to 4 brief segments of Dr King’s sermon by clicking here:
Many Jamaicans also remember that Dr King, at another speech during that visit, said that he felt more at home among his Jamaican brothers and sisters than he had ever felt anywhere else, because in Jamaica he felt like a human being.
At the time of his visit, Dr King was at the height of his efforts to bring civil rights to the negro population of the United States. He would be assassinated on April 4, 1968.
He would have been 84 in 2013.