The day Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to Norfolk

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaks at an anti-Vietnam War rally at the University of Minnesota in 1967.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaks at an anti-Vietnam War rally at the University of Minnesota in 1967. (Wikimedia Commons)

NORFOLK — The Norfolk Public Library’s pages of the past include a snapshot in history from the time when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was alive in the 1960s, covering his visit to Norfolk.

Peggy McPhillips, city historian, researched and wrote this particular edition of Pages from the Past and her work chronicles the times that King visited the city.

Starting in the summer of 1961, King appeared in Norfolk for the first time and spoke to an audience of 2,500 at the City Arena (now the Harrison Opera House) at a rally sponsored by the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, McPhillips wrote.

This wasn’t the only time that King was in Norfolk.

King returned to the city several times and his last visit was in October 1966, when he spoke at the New Calvary Baptist Church at installation ceremonies for Milton Reid as pastor, and answered questions from reporters and Norfolk State College students at a news conference, McPhillips wrote.

She wrote that hundreds of people crowded the church and lined Virginia Beach Boulevard, hoping for a glimpse of the civil rights leader.

Before King’s untimely death on April 4, 1968, he had scheduled and subsequently re-scheduled a tour to seven Virginia cities, including Norfolk and Suffolk, but had to cancel last minute to go to Memphis, she wrote.

The tour was originally scheduled to begin March 30, 1968 and it was supposed to encourage participation at the upcoming Poor People’s March on Washington, McPhillips wrote.

She wrote that he had promised to reschedule the Virginia trip in early April but died before he was able to visit.

King died at the age of 39, his ministry cut short by an assassin’s bullet on the balcony of his Memphis hotel room, she wrote.

To learn more about the Norfolk Public Library system and read more about the area’s history, click here.

Dr. Martin Luther King speaks with members of First Baptist Church in Williamsburg, including Pastor David Collins (right) in June 1962. (Southside Daily/Photo courtesy First Baptist Church)
Dr. Martin Luther King speaks with members of First Baptist Church in Williamsburg, including Pastor David Collins (right) in June 1962. (Southside Daily/Photo courtesy First Baptist Church)

A visit to Williamsburg

King also visited the First Baptist Church on Scotland Street in Willliamsburg on June 26, 1962.

He addressed the group of both black and white audience members about civil rights and their role in not only continuing the movement in Williamsburg, but trusting others along the way.

Though King’s visit to First Baptist Church came eight years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregation unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education, much of Williamsburg remained segregated.

Racial tensions remained relatively calm in Williamsburg compared with the Deep South during the 1950s and 1960s, but the area was not without its bursts of conflict.

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