April 27, 1965 -- Martin Luther King Jr. Speaks at UCLA:
A Day of Inspiration. A Legacy of Progress.
More than half a century ago, a crowd of 5,000 students and faculty gathered at UCLA’s Wilson Plaza to hear the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., the driving force behind the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The address came on the heels of the marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, which saw thousands of demonstrators making their voices heard in the fight for voting rights for all. In fact, only months after the UCLA speech, President Lyndon Johnson would sign the Voting Rights Act into law.
Echoing themes from his history-making “I Have a Dream” speech at the nation’s capital in 1963, King spoke of a prosperous future in which African Americans had a greater role in shaping their own political destiny. Entitled “Segregation Must Die,” the speech at UCLA not only underscored the ongoing struggle for equality but also served as an invitation to students to get involved. “Things don’t change on their own, things don’t change by waiting for them to change; they change through actions of good people,” King told the crowd, sharing that his goal was to get 2,000 students nationwide involved in voter registration efforts in the African American community. Inspired by his words, more than 20 UCLA students would leave California that summer to participate in the Summer Community Organization and Political Education (SCOPE) project and join the fight for integration and equality throughout the South.
Today, a plaque at the base of Janss Steps commemorates the speech -- and a moment in time that many of those who were there still look back on as one of the most powerful speeches they would ever hear. And for current and future generations of UCLA students, King’s message of hope and reconciliation continues to live on through the university’s community outreach and African American Studies programs.