[O]n Thursday, October 11, 1962, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke in Wait Chapel at Wake Forest College as part of the College Union Lecture Series.[i] This was not the first time a black person had spoken on the campus, but it was the first time a black man had been invited to speak after the College had officially integrated. Much social and political action on the part of the students and some faculty had brought the College to this rhetorical moment — a black civil rights leader speaking in Wait Chapel. [i] Old Gold & Black, October 15, 1962.
So begins Susan Faust and John Llewellyn’s short article “Prelude to a Dream” analyzing King’s Wait Chapel speech and placing it in the context of desegregation and activism at Wake Forest at the time. One must consider the climate of the campus, the South, and the country in the early 1960’s when Dr. King spoke in Wait Chapel to understand how significant this event was. Wake Forest College had only just admitted Ed Reynolds (’64), the first black graduate of the college, in the Fall of 1962. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s visit to campus so quickly after this monumental change to the campus culture only reinforced the transformation of the time.
Special Collections and Archives has an audio copy of this significant address in our holdings. Prior to the now famous “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. King used some of the same language and phrasing he later used in that historic speech in his address at Wait Chapel. Due to the nature of the copyright restrictions on these materials, patrons are required to listen to the audio, and read the transcript, in the Special Collections & Archives Research Room (ZSR 625). The finding aid is available online for researchers to view. We recommend making an appointment in Special Collections & Archives to come in and listen to the audio recording. Special Collections & Archives is honored to care for and provide access to such an important piece in Wake Forest’s history.
For additional information on what was happening on the campus at the time, you can search the Old Gold & Black Archives or peruse the “Faces of Courage” website for a timeline of events surrounding Wake Forest’s integration and Dr. King’s visit. In celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this year the Office of Multicultural Affairs at Wake Forest University is joining up with Winston-Salem State University to host a MLK Day keynote speech featuring CNN political commentator Angela Rye. The theme is “On Common Ground: Embracing Our Voices.” This will be held on Monday, January 21st at 7 p.m. in the K.R. Williams Auditorium on the campus of Winston-Salem State University. You can learn more about that event and other Martin Luther King, Jr. Day events here.