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Black History

Martin Luther King’s First Visit to Shreveport     
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 Drive”

      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 moving.” 




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