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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Graduation of 1960

As graduation approaches, we begin the yearly celebration of our Knoxville College students.  It is both a time of joy and reflection. This tradition brings to mind graduation celebrations of the past.  Perhaps one of the most interesting occurred in the Spring of 1960 when KC’s commencement speaker was none other than Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.  King had made national news as the leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which ended segregated public transportation.  However, he had not yet become the face of the Civil Rights Movement.  

On that warm day in May, Rev. King celebrated Knoxville College’s graduating class.  To the 2,500 in attendance, he delivered a speech called “It’s a Great Time to be Alive.”  In his distinct, commanding voice he acknowledged the victories of the Civil Rights Movement “We’re on the threshold of the most constructive period in history with respect to race relations….I am convinced that segregation is on its deathbed and the only thing uncertain is the day it will be buried.”  He told the graduates, “be ready to enter the doors when they open or you have flunked your entrance exam in the University of Integration.” They were headed into a time of new opportunities. 

He also challenged the graduating class of 43 seniors.  He pushed them to be concerned with all humans, live in brotherhood, and to excel.  His words moved KC students to action.  Shortly after King’s speech, a group of students began sit-ins and picketing segregated local department stores. These protests eventually forced segregated merchants to end racial segregation.  

Times have changed, but the meaning of the graduation ceremony has not.  It is a time to celebrate and reflect.  In today’s world, Dr. King’s ideas are more important than ever.  It is a great time to be alive, but Knoxville College graduates, are you ready to step through the open doors?  We believe you are.          

By Michael Blum

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