On May 18, 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. visited the University of Denver Arena after an invitation from a DU student group. The half full arena went to see King in his second appearance in Denver as he spoke about civil rights issues and protesting the Vietnam War. He had previously visited the DU campus in 1964 where he spoke to a crowd of about 600 people at the Student Union Building. King encouraged people to dodge the Vietnam War draft during his 1967 visit, and his recommendation received boos in the arena.
Although King is generally well received by Americans, it is important to note the hardships he went through before he was assassinated in 1968. As he was speaking to the crowd at the University of Denver Arena, wooden crosses and old cars burned outside. Others held up a bedsheet sign that read “Rights for Whites.”
King’s plane arrived in the evening that day at the old Stapleton Airport. Students and faculty only had to pay $1 to see the civil rights leader while others spent $2 to see him speak. King’s speech revolved around “The Future of Integration.”
“Most people see integration in romantic and aesthetic terms, but true integration means shared power. I’m in the heart changing business, but if morality cannot be legislated, behavior can be regulated,” King told the crowd.
Martin Luther King Day was officially established as a federal holiday in 1986. King was born in Atlanta in 1929, and he was the son of a pastor and a schoolteacher. In the early 1960s, King and civil rights and religious groups organized the March on Washington – a peaceful political protest with the purpose of highlighting social injustice toward African Americans.
During that protest, King gave his famous “I have a Dream” speech, and some of that speech is thought to have been improvised. He called for peace and equality as he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
TIME Magazine named King “Man of the Year,” and in 1964, he became the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
In April of 1968, King traveled to Memphis to support sanitation workers as they were in the midst of a strike. As he stood outside his motel balcony, King was shot and killed. His death sparked riots in major cities across the United States, and President Johnson declared a national day of mourning.
Martin Luther King Day is celebrated on the third Monday of every January. Denver will host a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Marade on Jan. 21 at City Park at 10:30 a.m.