Remembering MLK’s visit to Lincoln in December 1964

In December 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to thousands inside Pershing Auditorium in Lincoln.
Published: Jan. 17, 2022 at 10:05 AM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is being remembered on Monday and nearly 60-years ago, Dr. King visited Lincoln.

Albert Maxey, a retired officer with the Lincoln Police Department, escorted Dr. King while he was in the Capital City and said it was a moment that gives him chills.

Generations of family and loved ones decorate the walls of Maxey’s home.

“That’s the most famous picture of them all,” said Maxey as he pointed to a newspaper clipping.

That newspaper clipping is a picture of Maxey standing next to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while he was escorting him in Lincoln.

“I remember the chief telling me that’s what I’m going to do and I said ‘I would be happy to do that,’” said Maxey.

KOLN 10/11′s cameras were inside Pershing Auditorium in December 1964 when Dr. King spoke to the Methodist Student Movement. Some 6,000 people listened to his speech.

“One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people find themselves standing amid a great period of social change and yet they fail to achieve the new attitudes, the new thought patterns, the new mental outlooks that the new situation demands,” said Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during his speech in 1964 in Lincoln.

Mr. Maxey said at the time, he was one of two Black officers on the Lincoln Police Department, “I didn’t want to invade in his preparations but he was interested in how I got here which I told him where I came from, Indianapolis, how I ended up on the police department just to find a job after I’d left the University of Nebraska.”

There were other memorable moments before cameras were rolling and Dr. King’s speech started.

“After our talks and he sat around to relax, then he said ‘Well I’ll get myself ready.’ He took out a 3-by-5 card and was looking at it. He didn’t say much but I noticed that he wrote some notes down, then we just got in the car, went on down to the Pershing Auditorium and he never looked at that 3-by-5 card,” explained Maxey.

During Dr. King’s visit to Lincoln, his speech focused on what Christians and churches could do to fight segregation, specifically asking them to be a voice, not an echo.

“I realize that many of these states in this area may not have as large of Negro population as some of the other states in the east and the west. But certainly the responsibility is there and I think that there can be a real witness and demonstration of how a state and how people can be committed to democracy and learn the simple art of living together as brothers,” said Dr. King during an interview with 10/11 following his speech.

Historians in Nebraska say segregation was being fought in our community all the way back into the 1940s, and there were protests as well as riots happening in Omaha.

“I think for a community like Lincoln, it was just an opportunity to really empower the community whether you were white, Black or any other skin color, to fight for racial equality,” said Chris Goforth with History Nebraska.

Related: Great Plains Black History Museum

Mr. Maxey said this was a moment in his life that gives him chills, “He just opened his mouth and exposed who he was and what his dreams were. For that part of it, I really appreciate it and I’m proud of where I was.”

Dr. King’s words were powerful then in his speech in 1964 and they’re powerful now, “So I call upon you tonight, not to be spectators on the sideline, not to be individuals who are looking on, to be involved participants in this great struggle to make our nation a greater nation and to end all the evils of racial injustice, poverty, the evil of war. We will all be involved participants. We will be able to speed up that day.”

In 1958, Dr. King visited Omaha where he spoke at a National Baptist Conference and preached at Salem Baptist Church in north Omaha. In October 1960, Dr. King returned to Omaha for the Western Baptist Bible College where he gave a speech saying “within five years we will see a breakdown of the massive resistance to integration.”

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