Fifty years ago, in May 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited PLNU’s Golden Gymnasium and presented the speech “Remaining Awake through a Great Revolution.”
One year after his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, King traveled to the west coast to speak about the Civil Rights Movement going on in the south and his hope for the future of America.
In celebration of Black History Month, occurring throughout February, PLNU’s students and staff reflect on how King’s speech has impacted their lives.
King stated while discussing the “evilness of segregation” in front of the crowd at, then, Cal Western University, that, “We must reaffirm the essential immorality of this system and we must make it clear all over the nation that segregation must go and that we are through with segregation now, henceforth and forevermore.”
Many people in the PLNU community are unaware of this significant historical event. One such individual is recent graduate and PLNU Alumni Communications Assistant Audrie Hill.
“Last summer my husband Josh (a PLNU graduate) was telling me how big of an impact hearing about Martin Luther King being on campus had on him. I honestly had no idea what he was talking about,” Hill says. “As much as I strived to focus on the importance of diversity during my four years here, this monumental occasion somehow slipped past me.”
On the other hand, this event had personal meaning for certain PLNU staff members.
The mother of Kimberly Bogan, associate dean of Student Success and Wellness, Bennye Kate Seraile, was in attendance of King’s speech.
Raised and educated in rural, segregated Mississippi in the 1930s, Seraile moved to California after earning her elementary education teaching credential and graduating in 1955 with honors from Tougaloo College. She was the first African American female teacher hired in Oceanside School District, here in San Diego.
“I remember that there were so many people; it was exhilarating to be in the company of Martin Luther King and his group,” Seraile said via e-mail.
“As I listened to him speak, I felt as if there was more to be done; I identified with the struggle being from Mississippi,” Seraile said. “As a teacher, I wanted to expose my students to as many things as I could and tell them about the struggle for equality and the need for my students to be educated and excellent.”
Chief Diversity Office Jeffery Carr, discussed how King had a particular message throughout the Civil Rights Movement and stuck with it.
“In terms of the Civil Rights movement, it means totally different things to (young people of this generation) as they do for me,” Carr explains. “You are only able to see it through the lenses of historical events and not the emotion, not through the actual changes that we, as a people, went through at that time…You could never feel that; you can never understand that.”
With this monumental event hitting the 50-year mark, Carr explained how he plans to celebrate with PLNU.
“I have been percolating with the idea of having an event on campus to celebrate the speech in Golden Gym,” Carr says.
He imagines a community-based celebration of King’s visit to San Diego, but is conflicted with the calendar, as the student body will be out for summer vacation. He explained that he doesn’t want it to be simply a “Point Loma thing”, because it truly was not one 50 years ago.
“[The speech] was a community event. He came and he spoke in San Diego in a number of places,” Carr says, explaining that King spoke at San Diego State’s Open Air Theatre and a few other private institutions. But the speech in Golden Gymnasium was the most attended with an integrated crowd of 6,000 people, according to the San Diego Historical Society.
Carr has envisioned the simple kiosk that is currently standing in Golden Gymnasium in remembrance of where King stood while reciting his speech transformed into something bigger. He plans to bring together a group to brainstorm an idea that will be highlighted when students return to campus in August.
Within his “Remaining Awake through a Great Revolution” speech, King spoke about remaining figuratively awake in one’s life because if they do not, they will miss out on an opportunity to change the course of history.
“One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people find themselves amid great periods of social change and yet they fail to achieve the new mental outlook and the new attitudes, that the new situation demands,” said King in his speech. “All too many people find themselves sleeping through a revolution.”
“The greatest damage is that folks feel that those are not real issues today,” said Carr referring to King’s ‘Myth of Thyme’ section of the speech. “[King] talked about time being the greatest enemy that we have. People think that ‘in time’ things are just going to change and that we don’t have to do anything. He preached, ‘No, time isn’t going to do anything unless you do something!’”
Bogan agreed, saying, “Unfortunately as a nation and a people, we have strayed from the path, which has led to a false sense of security. Dr. King believed that one day we would no longer judge based on color but the content of our character. May we continue to tell the story and stay on the path.”