Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Montreat (1965)
Martin Luther King made an appearance in western North Carolina, this time for a public appearance as the keynote speaker at the Christian Action Conference of the Southern Presbyterian Church. The conference theme was “The Church and Civil Rights.” He had originally been set to open the three-day event but was delayed by a major riot in the Watts neighborhood in Los Angeles. King detoured to LA to help diffuse the tension, then made his way to North Carolina, arriving on August 20, 1965.
In the months leading up to the conference, the Presbyterian Church fielded letters, telegrams, and phone calls expressing strong feelings about King’s planned speech – some in support, many in opposition. An August 6, 1965 article in the Asheville Citizen Times entitled “King’s Montreat Talk Already Stirs Unrest,” reported “... King’s scheduled speech at Montreat, N.C., this month has caused considerable controversy.... The invitation to King had brought communications opposing it. But...there were also communications commending the board for its action.”
King rescheduled his talk for Saturday, August 21, 1965, at 2:00 pm. He arrived at the Asheville airport at 1:00pm. Five sheriff’s deputies escorted King from the airport to Montreat. Sheriff Clay told the Asheville paper that “the sole responsibility for the safety of Dr. King has been thrust
upon my department by the Federal agencies.” As such, though the speech was supposed to be open to the general public, Clay said he would refuse entrance to anyone who did not have “business there.” Clay continued, “It is my intent that this county remain peaceful and law-abiding. Recent happenings such as those in California, Chicago, and Massachusetts will not occur in Buncombe County.”
Bannerman, Glenn and Evelyn. Oral History by Mary Page Boyd, January 10, 2016. Quoted in Boyd, Mary Page senior thesis.
Branch, Taylor, Pillar of Fire: American in the King Years, 1963-1965, New York: Simon Schuster, 1999.
Boyd, Mary Page, “The Contest Public Memory of Race In Montreat, NC,” Senior Thesis, UNC-Chapel Hill, 2016.
“Church Integration Gain Slow, King Says,” The Baltimore Sun, January 21, 1964.
“Church Meet Guarded For Martin Luther King’s Visit,” The Daily Times-News, August 21, 1965.
“Church Must Heal, Not Flee, Race Woes, Says Dr. King,” The Charlotte Observer, August 22, 1965.
Dills, John C. “Evangelist Sees World on Fire,” Asheville Citizen, August 16, 1965.