ORLANDO, Fla. – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy is intertwined with the places he visited.
Marchers covered the streets of the nation's capital in the 1963 March on Washington, fueled by King's "I Have a Dream" speech. King's march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, was a crucial part of the formation of the National Voting Rights Act. Memphis, Tennessee, is home to the National Civil Rights Museum, housed at the Lorraine Motel, where King was assassinated in 1968.
While some of King's speaking sites are better-remembered than others, the Orange County Regional History Center is making sure Central Floridians do not forget that King was once in the City Beautiful too.
According to the history center's website, King visited Orlando on March 6, 1964. His visit came at the request of his friend the Rev. Curtis J. Jackson, pastor at Shiloh Baptist Church in downtown. King held two workshops at the church, where he met with locals and listened to their grievances with the city.
Jackson asked King to speak due to his frustration with the City Council's failure to pass desegregation legislation.
Bob Carr, Orlando's mayor at the time, met with both men and a delegation from the community. Shortly after King's visit, Carr created a biracial committee focused on improving conditions for Orlando's black residents.
The same night, King spoke to about 2,000 people from the pitcher's mound at the now-demolished Tinker Field. According to the history center, King's speech was one of the first times many of the members of Orlando's black community were allowed to sit in the "whites only" section of the stands.
Not many records exist of King's actual speech that night. News scripts archived by the history center show he spoke of nonviolent unification and promoted the passage of a civil rights bill.
Even if he never visited some cities in person, King's influence lives on all over Central Florida. Here are just a few local places dedicated in his name:
- MLK Jr. Boulevard travels past Osceola Regional Medical Center and into the Kissimmee Gateway Airport.
- Both Winter Park and Bushnell have their own Martin Luther King Jr. parks, both of which are open to the public.
- The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library serves the Melbourne community five days a week.
The reverend’s history in Florida
In 1960, King penned a letter to black students at Florida A&M University who were arrested for a sit-in at a local restaurant. According to the website of the State Archives of Florida, King told the students that “unearned suffering is redemptive. Going to jail for a righteous cause is a badge of honor and a symbol of dignity."
One of King's other notable Florida appearances was amid protests in 1964 St. Augustine. King and his nonviolent protest group, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, came to the city to support local activists in staging protests over the city's ongoing segregation.
King was arrested in St. Augustine on June 11 and then two more times within the month, but not in vain. The protests that King and the SCLC supported helped spur legislators into passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson days later.
When King was assassinated in 1968, Florida's then-Gov. Claude Kirk instructed that flags be flown at half-staff for two days in honor of his memory.
King's words will always be physically memorialized in Florida's archives. His eternal legacy can be seen through the brave Floridians in the 1960s and today who work to incite positive change.
“I assure you that your valiant witness is one of the glowing epics of our time,” King wrote to the jailed FAMU students. “You bring all of America nearer the threshold of the world’s bright tomorrows.”