African-American Oral Histories
Clip 5: Transcript
The Impact Of MLK Jr.
Running Time: 6 min 40 sec
CU: That was the first time I had ever seen him in person. I don’t know exactly what year that was, maybe ’59 or somewhere in there, I don’t know. But that was, I thought that was very interesting. I thought he was a very powerful speaker and very charismatic. I didn’t really know who was invited to that, to that event, but by and large with the exception of a handful of us the audience was predominantly white. I’m not sure, I guess it was the student association or whoever that had those forums on campus. And I don’t know if anybody outside of the campus knew of those events.
But there again, sometimes we were over there stuck in the laboratory. We didn’t know what was and what wasn’t publicized. And I don’t know whether, I don’t think there were that many students, that many Black students on campus who were present at that affair and I don’t really know, don’t know why, there were a lot of things that were different at that time and I’m not sure what, because a lot of the activist students were not particularly fans of Martin Luther King at that time. They were more fans of the Stokely Carmichael, the Black Panther Party, and the [Cope] movement, I’ve forgotten Carmichael’s group right now, [laughs] but anyway. So you had that kind of a thing where, I don’t know if students knew about it but just not really interested, at that time. Because early on in that movement, aside from the folks who were, like in Montgomery, Alabama, the organizers there, there were particularly a lot of young folks who thought that Martin Luther King was not militant enough, at that time, early on. And I, I think that, I think that changed pretty quickly, but there was a period when that was certainly true.
HT: And how did he manage to have such an influence if the majority of the audience was white?
CU: Well see, a lot of those kids were very active, students who were very active in the movement and I think they were very much enthusiastic about his appearance and were motivated considerably by his presence, which is, where many people felt that the action needed to be. Probably that was not necessarily the truth, that’s what a lot of folks thought, you needed to motivate a lot of white people, in order to get the movement going. Anyway, I think that in fact did happen. And I think if you had asked at that time, most Blacks would have felt that they were already there. That might not have been the truth, but that would have been their feeling, [laughs] that they didn’t really need motivation, that they were already beyond where Martin Luther King was motivating you to go to. That probably would have been their thinking.
HT: Do you remember what he talked about?
CU: Yeah. You’ve come a long way, we’ve got a long way to go. [laughs] Basically what his message was. Which was, he outlined a whole lot of things that had been accomplished. It was basically talking about how, how you can do things and he was talking about the Montgomery bus boycott, which had happened, that was all over the, and you’re thinking, “Boy in the middle of Montgomery, Alabama, integrate the buses. Well, we probably can do some things in Austin, Texas as well,” you know? So it was it was that kind of message about how far we had come in terms, from two points of view: from overcoming, some of those obstacles like back of the buses which meant by some mechanism, either through the courts or through whatever of convincing the majority of the community that that needed to be done, but at the same time on the other side, convincing the minority community, the Black community, that you need to do it. That if you don’t do it it’s not going to get done. You have to make this commitment to do this, and if you do, some things can be accomplished.
To me it was pretty much overwhelming, I just, because he is, he’s such a powerful speaker and in person I think much more powerful than, you could ever portray on television. When he is sort of, free to use the kind of examples that he used, like the Montgomery bus boycott and talked about the kind of people that caused that to happen, just ordinary working people who rode the bus to work every day. These are not professionals and all that kind of stuff, they were just those folks who got up every day and got on the bus to ride to their job across town, just ordinary citizens. And if those kind of folks can come together and make a difference, then everybody can. And just the way he presented all those kinds of factors, just compelling, saying “Well, you know, I mean I don’t have any excuse.” [laughs] And a lot of times, we, you know how it is, particularly science majors in graduate school, you can hide everything behind that if you want to. You really don’t have time to do anything [laughs] and you feel comfortable doing it. “Hey I got to go. I got an experiment going in the laboratory I got to do. I’m sorry but I have to have this,” you know, kind of a thing. But then you felt compelled that there was nothing more important than making a commitment for yourself and for your community, for how you wanted to perceive yourself as a person and how you wanted other people to perceive you.
“Oral Narrative as History.” Students received class credit for this work, and were under the supervision of Dr. Martha Norkunas, director of “The Project in Interpreting the Texas Past.”
Every effort has been made to transcribe the audio recordings exactly. On occasion a word, or phrase, was difficult to hear and this is indicated by a question mark in brackets.
Date of Interview:
February 23, March 9, 2004
Lower Colorado River Authority, City Council Room, Lake Austin Blvd., Austin, Texas
Sony Mini Disc MZ-R50 with stereo microphones; 80-minute minidiscs