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MLK speaker challenges audience perception of King

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Posted on January 21, 2019

David Stovall, professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago, contends that when people consider Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. many think only of the man who gave the "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, D.C., in 1963.

"We often ignore the last four years of his life," Stovall said during a keynote address on January 21 in the Fieldhouse. "Those last years represented a significant change for Dr. King."

Stovall said it was young people who challenged King to speak up. "He dared to say the words 'poor people.' He said the war in Vietnam was the same war as at home," Stovall said.

King's speeches during the last years of his life were not his most popular, Stovall said. In 1967, King gave a speech calling for the end to the Vietnam War, and for the government to spend less on the military and more on social programs.

Stovall said King asked the nation's leaders why young men were sent overseas to war, and what will the government do for them when they return home.

"And now we're occupying Afghanistan, Iraq and just got out of Syria. In 2019, we still haven't answered those questions," Stovall said.

He asked the crowd to consider King a "revolutionary warrior for justice, peace and love." And he asked audience members to break their silence on social justice issues.

"What will you do to step in and change the condition?" Stovall asked audience members. "The work will be difficult. It's big work, to demand an end to all suffering."

Events commemorating King's legacy continue throughout the week on campus. Shannon Cohen will give a keynote presentation on Wednesday, January 23, in the Kirkhof Center at 4:30 p.m. Visit for details.