In 1970, when our original Main Library building was constructed on West San Carlos Street, it was decided to name the building after the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The 1970s marked the beginning of the post-civil rights movement era. King had been assassinated in 1968 but his message was stronger than ever as the people continued to honor his legacy.
Today in remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we wanted to share a story from Carol Valentine, a San José Public Library employee since 1990, who witnessed Dr. King speak at an interfaith civil rights rally at the Cow Palace on May 30th, 1964.
These are Carol’s words:
“I had gone to college in Berkeley and was involved in a lot of stuff like social groups and politics. When I first left Berkeley, I went to San Francisco as a young adult. I knew someone who was part of a church group where the minister was very involved in politics. I don’t recall if I learned about Dr. King’s speaking engagement from this group or from someone else but anyone who saw the news knew Dr. King was coming.
This Cow Palace event was one of the few California settings that Dr. King made an appearance at. Most were in the south, so I was fortunate to attend when I was a young woman. I remember being excited to go. I don’t recall which friends I went with or what I wore, but I remember making my way into the Cow Palace Arena surrounded by hundreds of people. Even before Dr. King spoke, the excitement was already there. What I remember the most was the sensation of electricity from the crowd. When you got inside, the electricity in the air was just overwhelming.
Dr. King was a gifted speaker with a wonderful voice. The people came in search of hope. Hope that things would be better. It felt like the event was in honor of those people who were able to adapt and live by his words, while maintaining hope and looking for a positive way to make things better. Being part of the movement, the emphasis was using a non-violence approach whether you believed in it because it was strategic. You’re going to get somewhere if you use a non-violence approach. You would see that violence is not as effective if you look at the contrast. There was such a hunger for Dr. King’s words of encouragement and progress, and a world that he made seem possible.
There was just something magical surrounding Dr. King and those that heard him speak witnessed it. The opportunity to see Dr. King speak came again for my husband while in New Orleans. He and his cousin were walking in the evening, and they noticed an event taking place in a church. They parted ways and my husband went in to see what was going on. What a surprise to walk in and discover Martin Luther King speaking. My husband didn’t go home that night. He got involved in a demonstration and became a Freedom Rider and moved from place to place.
I don’t remember all of the details from the actual event I attended, but the feeling has stayed with me. It is one of my treasured memories because it was such a unique experience to feel the crowd and listen to Dr. King’s words.”
Hundreds of people walk into the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library in downtown San José every day. Upon leaving the building they are met with a bronze bust of Dr. King. There inscribed are the years of King’s birth and death. Although King is no longer with us, the power behind his message is still being carried out today.
“Not everybody can be famous but everybody can be great because greatness is determined by service”.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The next time you exit the building, please look into Dr. King’s eyes, and take his message of hope with you.
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