1961: Martin Luther King Brings the Civil Rights Message to Sioux Falls
About six years after the Montgomery bus boycott began, and two years before his legendary "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington DC, Dr. Martin Luther Jr visited Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Dr. King first rose to national prominence in 1955 with the Montgomery bus boycott. King helped organize the protest campaign in Montgronomy, Alabama against the city's segregated public transportation.
The event brought King onto the national stage, and he became a leader in the mid-century Civil Rights Movement.
Dr. King came to Sioux Falls on January 12, 1961. He had been asked to make a speech at the Knife and Fork Club of Sioux Falls. The Knife and Fork was a social dinner club where members gathered for a meal and to listen to speakers.
It was the first time the Georga-born King had visited South Dakota. The meeting of the Knife and Fork Club was held at the Cataract Hotel.
Illustrating the struggle of the time, Dr. King was not allowed to stay at the Cataract Hotel while in town. So instead he stayed at St. John's First Baptist Church which was located where Van Eps Park is today.
While in Sioux Falls Dr. King appeared on local TV. He was interviewed by KELOland's Doug Hill. King was his trademark strong, stoic, and friendly self as he spoke about events at the time and the need to ensure that the promise of America is enjoyed by all.
In January of 2020 Sioux Falls honored Dr. King's work and legacy with a life-sized bronze statue in Van Eps Park. The statue was made possible by the work of the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation, the City of Sioux Falls, and the Sioux Falls Arts Council.
"Black history is American history, so it's extremely important for people in Sioux Falls, in particular, to know our history, to know our place in history,” Julian Beaudion, Assistant Director of the South Dakota African-American Museum, told Dakota News Now in 2020.
“On behalf of the people of Sioux Falls, I want to dedicate this statue to the legacy of Martin Luther King, as well as those who have fought and continue to fight for justice, unity, and equality throughout the world, but especially in our own city,” Mayor Paul TenHaken said in 2020.
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