King’s Legacy Lives

By Michael R. Malone

King’s Legacy Lives

By Michael R. Malone
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision for a “Beloved Community” has inspired a number of University of Miami alumni and faculty. Read their recollections below.

On May 19, 1966, less than two years before he would be fatally shot by an assassin, civil rights leader and American clergyman Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited the University of Miami campus for a speech on “The Church’s Involvement in the Civil Rights Program.”  

Gas was 32 cents a gallon, miniskirts were in style, the average price of a home hovered at $14,200, and more than 500,000 young soldiers were battling Viet Cong guerrillas in the treacherous jungles of Vietnam.

King, a Nobel Peace prize winner yet controversial in large part because of his call to end that war, was invited by the University’s Department of Religion and UM President Henry King Stanford. Out of concern for his safety, King was ushered in through the back door of the Whitten Student Union, and was met in the kitchen by the University president, a visionary and activist in his own right.

“Coming through the back door of a house, not the front, would have been the only place I could have met a black man when I was growing up in Atlanta,” Stanford wrote, describing the meeting, in his book Campus Under Fire and Other Essays. The two leaders shared a laugh at the irony.

King was met by a standing ovation by the 1,200 students and faculty in attendance, according to a Miami Herald report. “Civil rights is a moral issue—it is not just a matter of economics and politics,” King told the crowd, while challenging his fellow clergymen to take action in the struggle for equality.

“Criminal responses are environmental and not racial,” the civil rights icon said in remarks captured in We Were Pioneers: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1966), adding that “poverty, ignorance, social isolation, and economic deprivation breed crime whatever the racial group might be.”

On its website, The King Center describes the MLK holiday as a day that celebrates interracial and intercultural cooperation. “No other day of the year brings so many peoples of different cultural backgrounds together in such a vibrant spirit of brother and sisterhood…this is not a black holiday; it is a peoples’ holiday. And it is the young people of all races and religions who hold the keys to the fulfillment of his dream.”

Five decades after his death, Dr. King’s “great dream for America,” a call not for national greatness but for a vibrant multiracial nation that lives by its noblest principles, has spawned a legacy that lives on in new generations of UM alumni and faculty. These voices and their commitment to promote respect, diversity, and tolerance help to advance the University’s Roadmap to Our New Century.

Read the impact King has had on the lives of some members of the UM community:

Anthony Barthelemy, associate professor of English, speciality in African-American and Renaissance literature.

Most of my associations with Dr. King go back to when I was a teenager and just seeing the way my family understood the future, the possibility of a different America—an America where there were not the gross inequities between the promise and the reality. | Read more

Renee Dickens Callan, director of UM Multicultural Student Affairs, primary advisor for United Black Students.

We need to be aware and to fight for those that don’t have a voice, to be conscious that there are people on the fringes of society and marginalized, and that, if you are in a position and have the ability to advocate for or with them, you have the responsibility to do that. That’s part of our humanity. | Read more

Marvin Dawkins, professor of sociology, editorial board member Journal of Race and Policy and Negro Education Review.

Throughout my life, I’ve always tried to directly follow the King model—practicing non-violence, being a gentle person, having pride in excellence, and trying to lead and to help others think of themselves as being somebody. | Read more

Michael Stephen Gaines, biology professor and assistant provost of Undergraduate Research and Community Outreach.

This favorite quote of Dr. King’s has inspired me for years: “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” I teach lots of courses related to health and medicine, have lots of pre-med students, and I often cite this quote to them. We want our physicians to be sensitive to issues of access. | Read more

Thelma V. A. Gibson, Emeriti member Board of Trustees, president emeritus Theodore R. Gibson Memorial Fund, Miami HistoryMaker.

We should never forget Dr. King’s fortitude, his act of wanting something for America that would make it a better place for all of God’s children—he truly believed that we are all God’s children. | Read more

Sherrill Hayes, professor emeritus and chair of the Department of Physical Therapy for 29 years; served on the “The Vietnam War con’t” panel for “The Sixties” class offered biannually at the University.

Dr. King’s message and stress on non-violence was very important to me. The anti-war protests and draft lottery happened during my years in college from 1966-70, and I was very much involved. | Read more

H.T. Smith Jr., J.D. ’73, vice chair of the UM Board of Trustees, a “Miami Distinguished Native Son.”

 What made an especially big impact on me was Dr. King’s great “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” where he speaks to people of faith and of good will about the necessity that anytime is the right time to do what’s right. | Read more


Anthony Barthelemy

Anthony BarthelemyMost of my associations with Dr. King go back to when I was a teenager and just seeing the way my family understood the future, the possibility of a different America—an America where there were not the gross inequities between the promise and the reality. That was what Dr. King was always about—that you could believe that the promise was coming true, that the values of America were becoming real.

The night Dr. King was assassinated, I was a college freshman and attending a campaign rally for Eugene McCarthy. Tom Lehrer was there singing his famous parody, “The Vatican Rag.” We were all in a festive mood, enjoying the political activism of that particular time and hope that we going to move LBJ out of the Vietnam War.  Somebody walked up to Laird on stage and told him about Dr. King and he announced it to us all.

I remember, too, watching the march on Washington and listening to him give that speech. I remember my family reacting, having a sense that we were witnessing a moment of greatness in America, a moment of profound “calling in the check,” that what America stood for and what it meant was being renewed and challenged at the same time.

When Dr. King expanded his message from the desire for civil rights to the push for peace and for jobs—the way that the message was expanded—provoked a lot of debate amongst a lot of people who had a lot of faith with him. Each push, each expansion, each enlargement of the goal was wise. There was always this kind of sense amongst us that the great leader is the man who will stand to be questioned.

One part of King’s message that resonates with me is that when you see injustice, you act. It’s not like, well, we’ll hold back a little and once you have the message then we’ll do something. You have to be clear, and the clarity requires action.

 Many years ago, a nephew of mine was looking at his fourth grade history book that stated that Dr. King “worked for freedom.” That’s a very nebulous notion. What Martin Luther King Jr. died for is that he was in Memphis trying to get a pay raise for garbage men. You look at the glamour of the recent Golden Globe Awards and Oprah Winfrey’s awards speech where she says that the “#metoo” movement has to include domestic workers, field workers, women who work in factories, in restaurants, in engineering, in art, in science, in military, in politics…” We need to remember that this call is in keeping with what Dr. King stood for. We have to see and remember him as someone on the ground, working for striking garbage workers who were looking for dignity. 

I’ve always thought that it was a great expression of the positive nature of MLK and very meaningful that we promote the “day of service”—the way the Obamas promoted going out in the community. The U is very big on this, and it’s so pleasing to see hundreds of kids go out in the community to do a day of service.


Renee Dickens Callan

Renee Dickens CallanWhen I first watched his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, it was an opportunity to think about that time and what it was like in comparison with the stories you hear from parents, from relatives and your elders. His speech put all those things together with a face and a voice. Obviously, it takes a village to move these issues forward, but with Dr. King he was that someone who gave voice to the issues of that time.

In terms of Dr. King’s message, the aspect that most resonates with me is to be aware and to fight for those that don’t have a voice, to be conscious that there are people who are on the fringes of society and marginalized, and that, if you are in a position and have the ability to advocate for or with them, you have the responsibility to do that. That’s part of our humanity.

This shows up for me in my work in education, in the diversity office where I’m really trying to help students navigate the university system and to get educated. My career has been, in a small way, similar to Dr. King: trying to better the lives of students through education.

The piece of Dr. King’s effort that so many talk about is non-violence. While that is definitely accurate, it’s not only about simply addressing your detractors and those who oppose with love and turning the other cheek. For some of the ills of society there has to be some form of resistance, of fighting for. You can’t always sit and wait for things to happen. You have to get out there and do the right things, you have to act, and bring something to the table that pushes the issues forward.

United Black Students usually puts on a community service project that sometimes takes place on the MLK holiday and I’m focused completely on helping to coordinate their service event, where they’re doing something—painting, cleaning up, visiting the elderly—in the community. This year, I’ll probably be doing something with my family. But for Dr. King’s legacy, it’s not all about service, because this holiday is just one day, it’s about what you’re doing to sustain what he espoused and to have an ongoing impact in your communities.


Marvin Dawkins

Marvin DawkinsI wanted to become a social activist because of everything that was going on, but was on the fence of the best course of study to get there. When I learned that Dr. King had majored in sociology as an undergrad at Morehouse College, I switched my major. If Martin Luther King was doing it, that’s what I would do, too. I was particularly impacted by his principles that related religion to social action.

My life has been guided and inspired by Dr. King’s quote on service: “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” It’s always made me feel that serving is the most important role I can do—it’s the reason I’ve been a professor for so long.

I was 39 and tenured at a small school in Wisconsin, when my wife died. I was devastated and took a leave of absence, went to North Carolina with my young son to live with relatives. To get back on my feet, I started volunteering, first at a Boys and Girls club, then a summer Bible school, and then with Meals on Wheels. I loved that work but eventually got fired—because I spent too much time staying to talk to the lonely people we delivered meals to and for reporting problems about the living conditions I saw. My sister pointed out that she knew that I loved the volunteer work but reminded me that Dr. King was a “drum major for social justice” and that God wasn’t finished with me yet. I knew I could be of service through my teaching. I applied to UM and was accepted.

I’ve been here since and have benefited so greatly and have been so gratified with my students, particularly grad and doctoral students, some who have gone on to become deans and chairs of departments themselves, and they call and look in on me as if they were family, share what they’re doing and ask for advice. You feel valued—and all from the [intention] to do service. I’ve been blessed, largely because of things I’ve done.

Throughout my life, I’ve always tried to directly follow the King model—practicing non-violence, being a gentle person, having pride in excellence, and trying to lead and to help others think of themselves as being somebody.

When remembering Dr. King, we should never forget his vision for the Beloved Community, all people joining before freedom. He said he wanted to see people walking together, treating each other as brothers and sisters—that was his vision for America.


Michael Stephen Gaines

Michael Stephen GainesThis favorite quote of Dr. King’s has inspired me for years: “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” I teach lots of courses related to health and medicine, have lots of pre-med students, and I often cite this quote to them. We want our physicians to be sensitive to issues of access.

At the time of Dr. King’s historic speech in Washington, I was attending Tulane University in New Orleans, and there was a lot of turmoil going on. You saw and heard about lots of violence all around. What stood out for me was Dr. King’s message about non-violence and his approach. Here was this peaceful man trying to make change in a society, trying to unify the country amidst it all.  

It depends what part of the country you’re from, but some felt Dr. King was in some ways a rabble-rouser, which he wasn’t. Some thought he was socialist because of his viewpoints. A lot of that has to do with your views about what is fair in society. Today with all the stuff going on we’re living in a divisive country; MLK tried to bring us together, and that message escapes people in terms of what we need to do to be a stronger and better country. We’re all the same—have the same heartbeats, have a certain tolerance for freezing—we’re all alike, and we should celebrate our differences. But that gets lost in a lot of circles. 

On the MLK holiday especially, I often think about what impacted me, about the Civil Rights Movement, and three young men in Mississippi who were murdered for what they believed in. I think about being a student back then in New Orleans. I was pretty unhappy—lost and disconnected—and with my mother and father begging me to come back home to New York City. I stayed and suffered through it—and I’m glad I did. I believe it made me stronger and sensitive to the issues that Martin Luther King was all about.


Thelma V. A. Gibson

Thelma V. A. GibsonI so remember sitting at my television in Miami and watching Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” [Washington, August 1963] and coverage of walk in Selma [to Montgomery, March 1965]. It was so powerful to see how he was so determined, along with those who walked with him, to make a difference for all of us in this country, especially for those of us who were considered colored or Negro.

I’ve spent all my life in Coconut Grove, and growing up I was pretty radical in my own way, trying to make change take place. I fell in line with some of his teachings that all of us should be there trying to make a difference and then for all of us to get along with each other, that we should all to be able to walk in freedom. He especially wanted his children—everybody’s children—to have everything that America has to offer.

We should never forget Dr. King’s fortitude, his act of wanting something for America that would make it a better place for all of God’s children—he truly believed that we are all God’s children.

For the holiday, I always make sure to go to the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project breakfast hosted by Congresswoman Frederica Wilson. The ceremony honors and awards children, especially boys, with scholarships to go to school. Like Dr. King, she wants them to be better people, to go to school, and to get an education. That makes me very proud.


Sherrill Hayes

Sherrill HayesI was just a freshman in high school when I heard Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech [August 28, 1963] I remember watching it—mesmerized—on television. It was so inspirational and motivational. The other memory I have is when he was killed. It was such a tragedy. I was also in high school when JFK [President John F. Kennedy] was killed. You think about what would have happened if both of them had lived.

Dr. King’s message and stress on non-violence was very important to me. The anti-war protests and draft lottery happened during my years in college from 1966-70, and I was very much involved. In my senior year, I was also a physical therapist at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center where I treated those 18- and 19-year-olds [wounded in Vietnam]. I was profoundly impacted by the war and their injuries.

It’s interesting how things from the sixties overlap. We were young and forming our own values. The civil rights movement happened, the women’s movement happened, the Vietnam War and the protests—so much of that was so impactful, and we thought we had made so much progress. Yet some things still haven’t changed and it even seems that we’re getting worse. It’s really disappointing that equal work and equal pay still doesn’t exist.

In remembering Dr. King, we should not forget the importance of working together to solve our problems, that people are good—and have the potential to be good. We should try to resist the anger that happens in so many things, that people get upset or feel that they’re mistreated or disrespected. I understand that, but sometimes the anger overcomes the serious thought and the willingness to work together.


H.T. Smith Jr.

H.T. Smith Jr.My family owned and operated Polite’s Restaurant in Overtown and walking distance from the Mary Elizabeth Hotel, a popular hotel for black entertainers, athletes and celebrities visiting Miami in those days. After performing on Miami Beach, they had to leave because of the segregation law curfew for blacks. They’d come back to Overtown where they’d stay up for parties [and at music clubs] until the sun came up. They’d sleep in until noon or 1 p.m. then come by the restaurant. As a little boy, when Dr. King came in to eat and talk, I didn’t know how great he was, just knew that he was a signature leader in the fight for justice. The beauty of him was that his “person” was the same as his “persona.”

What made an especially big impact on me was his great “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” where he speaks to people of faith and of good will about the necessity that anytime is the right time to do what’s right. He’s saying that it’s the necessity of people of faith to take action, like Jesus did for the downtrodden—and who’s more downtrodden than the black community?

So I have dedicated myself to spending 90 percent of my “time, talent, and treasure” in the black community because that’s where the need is greatest. The only exception is that I belong to the UM Board, and [that is because] when I came back from the Vietnam War suffering from PTSD, UM admitted me to law school before I even took the admission test. No other institution would have done that. It saved me mentally because law school is so demanding, and I was so involved in my books that it kept the distractions away. I was the first in my family, not just to go to college, but to set foot on a college campus.

To honor Dr. King’s legacy, we must never forget that we are all of the same family—the human family. Fifty years from now—as Rony Abovitz [fellow alumnus] talked about in his December commencement address—we’ll look back and say, “What’s wrong with you guys, how is it that you were treating people like that because of the color of their skins?” We need to focus on the universality of our humanness, that we are all one and from the same family.

For the MLK holiday, I go to the 5000 Role Models for Excellence Project breakfast just to remind myself what I should be doing. And I always have a random act of kindness, sometimes it’s a renovation project, painting or cleaning, or helping train people how to get their records sealed or expunged, or on their rights when stopped by police. This year we’ll be working cleaning and planting at the NFLYET Center at Gwen Cherry Park.

- University Archives at University of Miami Libraries provided research and resources for this report.