As students walk on the campus of Springfield College in their sweatpants and hoodies, many know not of the history that precedes them. Although small in stature, Springfield College has had more than its share of historical impact over the 129 years that it has existed.
Martin Dobrow, Associate Professor of Communications, presented a lecture on Thursday, Feb. 22. The lecture, which was held in the Fuller Arts Center, covered the topic of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s appearance at Springfield College in 1964.
“When I came here to Springfield College in 1999…I was fascinated to learn that Martin Luther King had some history on this campus,” stated Dobrow. “I had no idea, other than the fact that he gave the commencement address. I didn’t realize that there was such an amazing story behind it.”
Although the history books do correctly state that King visited Yale on June 15, 1964, they fail to mention his trip to Springfield just a day before. With his planned commencement address occuring at the apex of his fame, there was an enormous amount of controversy surrounding King’s arrival.
For one, the FBI urged Springfield College President Glenn Olds to cancel his plans to host King. Olds took the brunt of this pressure, even having a donor rip up a $1 million check once he was informed of King’s planned arrival.
Even after that, King almost did not make the trip. He was in jail in Florida for three days right before the commencement, arrested for ordering food at a whites-only establishment. Yet despite all of this controversy, Springfield stuck to its guns and King was able to successfully give his commencement speech, marking that day as one of the most monumental in Springfield College history. While King’s journey to Springfield reaches its 50th anniversary, Dobrow feels that this is the time to look back on that moment, and to use it as a way to propel the college further.
“Our college is a very idealistic place,” said Dobrow, who is working on a book about civil rights that includes the story of King’s journey to Springfield. “We talk about leadership in service to humanity; those are amazingly idealistic words. It is important for us not to just talk the talk, but to walk the walk.”
Springfield College prides itself on being an accepting, homey community. One where few faces are unknown, everyone holds the door for each other, and where getting a smile from a passing stranger, although rare in the “real world,” is standard at Springfield.
Dobrow emphasizes that there is some proud heritage about diversity that the school can and should claim. It’s not just the story about doing the right thing with Martin Luther King. There were also pioneer figures on this campus long ago, people like Harold Amos, ’41 (an African-American scientist who taught at Harvard Medical School for almost 50 years) and Tom Waddell, ’59. Waddell was a standout, three-sport athlete (football, gymnastics and track) who competed in the decathlon in the 1968 Olympics. He was also a physician who did great volunteer work overseas. And before he died of AIDS in 1987 he started the Gay Games – an internationally popular sporting event which will be held this summer in Cleveland.
At the same time, Dobrow believes there is a lot of work to be done. During his presentation, Dobrow stated that he thought the campus was “too white,” and he suggested that more efforts need to be made to promote diversity. He referenced last semester’s “Cheney Incident” as an example that we still have a way to go.
In an effort to continue to promote diversity, President Mary-Beth Cooper has launched an annual lecture to coincide with King’s Birthday.