Aug 27, 2023 - News

Remembering Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy in Denver

Martin Luther King Jr. during a visit to Boulevard Presbyterian Church in Denver's Park Hill neighborhood on Jan. 26, 1964. Photo: Courtesy of Denver Public Library Special Collections - WH2129-2022-29

Thousands of people inside Denver's Montview Boulevard Presbyterian Church eagerly awaited the start of the sermon. But the guest speaker, Martin Luther King Jr., was nowhere to be found.

Details: It was Jan. 26, 1964, and King would arrive at the last second. He had gotten stuck inside a church restroom, so he crawled out a window back to the church's hall to give his remarks, local author Phil Goodstein wrote in "Park Hill Promise."

Driving the news: Monday marks 60 years since King delivered his "I Have a Dream'' speech from the steps of Washington D.C.'s Lincoln Memorial. We're looking back at King's legacy in the Mile High City, which he visited at least four times.

  • Restoration Christian Fellowship Church in Aurora will host an event on Sunday at 9am to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington.

Why it matters: The speech was more than just a single line, local activist "Brother" Jeff Fard tells us, and its larger message of ensuring equity through steps like providing job opportunities for people of color remains relevant.

Martin Luther King Jr. with L. Sylvester Odom of Denver's African Methodist Episcopal Church in an undated photograph during a press conference at Stapleton Airfield. Photo: Courtesy of Denver Public Library Special Collections - RMN-025-1898

Flashback: King's first known visit to Denver was in 1956, when he attended the New Hope Baptist Church in Park Hill.

  • It's where he first heard the hymn "If I Can Help Somebody," a song that would turn into a personal favorite for him, according to CPR News.

The big picture: He was in Denver again in 1962, but by the time he visited for a multi-stop visit in January 1964 β€” six months after he delivered his famous speech β€” King had become a celebrated national figure.

The intrigue: He was paid $200 (nearly $2,000 in 2023) by the Denver city government for the visit, which caused some controversy: City Auditor Charles Byrne questioned the legality of using public money to pay a preacher, according to a Rocky Mountain News article.

  • Assistant City Attorney W.H. Van Duzer argued it was for King's personal services, not his religious affiliation, so it didn't violate any state laws.

King came to DU's campus again in May 1967 β€” this time as a Nobel laureate.

  • He spoke out against the Vietnam War, prompting some boos in the 2,500-member crowd inside the former DU Fieldhouse arena, according to the Rocky Mountain News.

Zoom out: Outside the arena, some young people held up a sign on a bedsheet with the words "Rights for Whites," per the Rocky Mountain News.

Go deeper: How Denver ended up with two MLK statues

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