When Martin Luther King Jr. visited Maine in 1964, he spoke about the civil rights movement and the status of race relations. While there had been much progress, King said, there was a still a long journey ahead.

On May 6, 1964, King visited Brunswick at the invitation of Bowdoin College. He then spoke at Saint Francis College, now the University of New England in Biddeford, on May 7.

According to the Bowdoin College website, King was invited to speak by the college’s Political Forum, “a non-partisan student organization.”

The organization invited King to speak as part of a series of Black civil rights leaders.

King was originally scheduled to speak at the Pickard Theater on campus. When it became clear the venue could not accommodate the number of people planning to attend, the talk was moved to First Parish Church in Brunswick.

The Bowdoin website says King spoke to a group of roughly 1,100 people.

King gave a one-hour speech, which was recorded on the college radio station, WBOR. The recording was originally thought lost, but was later discovered by a Bowdoin archivist amongst unmarked tapes.

The King Center in Georgia holds the copyright to the speech, but the audio is available through the Bowdoin website (bowdoin.edu/mlk/mlks-visit-to-bowdoin.html).

The next day King and multiple other leaders in the movement, many of whom had also been at Brunswick, spoke at Saint Francis College as part of a symposium on human rights titled, “I Have a Dream: The Negro and the American Quest for Identity: A Symposium on Human Rights.” King delivered the titular speech in August the year before.

Pamphlets from the Biddeford symposium list King’s topic as “civil disobedience.” Other topics from the symposium were “social justice,” “freedom in the north,” and “freedom and identity.”

A newspaper article from May 8, 1964, provided by the Saint Francis College History Collection, described those in attendance as an “overflow crowd that jammed the gymnasium and stood outside listening.”

An examination of the article covering King’s speech in Biddeford, compared to the audio of the speech in Brunswick, reveal he apparently gave the same speech at both locations.

King spoke about progress in the fight for Black rights and the battle for integration.

“We have come a long, long way,” King said, “but we have a long, long way to go before the problem is really solved.”

“I am absolutely convinced that the system of segregation is on its death-bed,” King said. “The only thing uncertain about it now is how costly the segregationists will make the funeral.”

King called for strong changes to battle issues of voter rights, employment rights and education rights in the Black community.

“Unless the nation works in a vigorous, determined way to grapple with this problem, we are in for deeper social problems and darker nights of social disruption,” he said.

“If democracy is to live, segregation must die,” he cautioned the crowd. He called it a cancer in the body of politics that must be removed for the health of society, and soon.

King then spoke about the nonviolent civil disobedience for which he advocated.

“If (the Black man) is to be free, he must stand up for that freedom. This is the meaning of the nonviolent, direct-action movement,” he said.

King called nonviolent resistance “the most potent weapon” in the fight for civil rights. The ends do not justify the means, he said, and “destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends.”

“I believe by following this philosophy, we will be able to transform our nation,” King said.

Martin Luther King, Jr. is interviewed by WGAN news radio, based out of Portland, May 1964. Courtesy of Saint Francis College History Collection, University of New England, Biddeford ME

Martin Luther King, Jr. with the crowd at Saint Francis College in Biddeford, May 1964. Courtesy of Saint Francis College History Collection, University of New England, Biddeford ME

Martin Luther King, Jr. at Saint Francis College in Biddeford, 1964. A local newspaper article identified the men pictured. Left to right: Waldemar Roebuck, regional director, action for interracial understanding in New York City; Rev. Clarence Laplante, O.F.M, president of the college; Reb. Dr. King; and Atty. Harold D. Carroll, St. Francis advisory board. Courtesy of Saint Francis College History Collection, University of New England, Biddeford ME

A pamphlet from the 1964 human rights symposium at Saint Francis College in Biddeford where Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke. Courtesy of Saint Francis College History Collection, University of New England, Biddeford ME