May 6, 1964: On his only visit to Maine, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) speaks at First Parish Church in Brunswick at the invitation of the Bowdoin Political Forum at Bowdoin College.

King comes to Maine with Bayard Rustin (1912-1987), another nationally prominent civil rights leader, who was the chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. The event is so well-promoted that college officials have to move it from the Pickard Theater, where it originally was scheduled to take place. About 1,100 people attend King’s speech.

King talks about the need for an organized civil disobedience campaign to maintain public awareness of the civil rights issue.

“The realist,” King tells the crowd, describing race relations in the United States, “would agree with the optimist that we have come a long, long way; but he would seek to balance that by agreeing with the pessimist that we have a long, long way to go before this problem is solved.”

Bowdoin’s radio station, WBOR, records King’s entire hourlong speech. The recording is lost for many years, but Bowdoin archivist Caroline Moseley rediscovers it while sorting through uncataloged material. It is available to be heard on Bowdoin’s website at

King is assassinated in 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. The United States makes his birthday an annually observed federal holiday in 1986.

Correction: This story was updated at 9:25 a.m. on May 7, 2020 to correct Martin Luther King Jr.’s year of birth.

Joseph Owen is a retired copy desk chief of the Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. He can be contacted at: [email protected]


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