Martin Luther King’s First Visit to
by Professor Willie Burton
It was a very hot and humid day on Thursday, August 14, 1958 as the United Christian Movement, Inc. (UCM) held its first
“United Christian Conference on Registration and Voting “in
Shreveport at the
Galilee Baptist Church on Williamson Street, where Rev. J.T. Stewart
was the pastor. The UMC was organized in 1957 during the same time
span that the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) was
organized in New Orleans with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as president.
The SCLC, as was the UCM, was a nonviolent direct -action group
organized to fight segregation and discrimination. The UCM was
composed of some ministers and lay people of Shreveport. Dr. C.O.
Simpkin’s, a local dentist, was the president.
Dr. King was a consultant and the keynote speaker at the conference.
It was Martin Luther King’s first visit to Shreveport, but he knew
leaders like Dr. Simpkins from various civil rights meeting and the
organizational meeting of the SCLC. He conducted his first workshop at
the 2-4 p.m. session. The workshop was entitle “How to Prepare
and Organize Your Community for a Successful Registration and Voting
The was what many people in the black community waiting for as Dr.
King was introduced by Dr. C.O. Simpkins at the 7:30 p.m. program,
after Mr. Elm Waters’ United Choir gave a beautiful rendition of “ How
Great thou Art”. King stressed the importance of blacks
registering and voting and use “U.S. history to chart a meaningful
path to the future.” Speaking on the subject, “What Negroes Can
Learn From History,” he stated that “the greatest move the Negro can
make is the short step to the ballot box.” His reminder to the
audience was that “privileged groups never give up their privileges
without a struggle, and the white man in defending segregation is not
defending what he believes to be morally right, but what he finds
economically profitable.” On separate but equal, he stated,
“separate can never be equal”, and added that “the purpose of
segregation was to keep the segregator on top and the segregated on
the bottom.” He also told the overflowing audience of Galilee that
“human progress is never inevitable,” and warned them to “keep
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