Some of the most memorable remarks made Monday at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast in downtown Minneapolis came from the civil rights icon himself.
Rarely seen footage of King addressing a crowd of mostly white students at the University of Minnesota in 1967 was projected behind the stage at the Minneapolis Armory. He was speaking on race, poverty and the Vietnam War nearly a year before his assassination in April 1968.
“I personally decided to tell America the truth, because I love America so much,” King told the U students near the end of his speech. “And I want to see our great nation stand as a moral example of the world.”
Speakers in Minneapolis, and later in the morning at a celebration of King’s birthday organized by Gov. Mark Dayton’s office in St. Paul, echoed his message of honesty, unity and hope for racial progress and equality.
They included David Oyelowo, a British-born actor who played King to critical acclaim in the 2014 film “Selma.” Oyelowo, the keynote speaker for the Minneapolis event, said he worried that King had been reduced “to a figure, untouchable, carved in stone, a monument” and that people today have forgotten “how human he was.”
Oyelowo said that when it comes to race, the United States is “in a place we do not want to be,” and he urged listeners to reach out to people of differing beliefs as King did.
“He knew … this country was in a place it shouldn’t be,” Oyelowo said. “He needed to be strong, and he could only do that from a place of knowing who he was.”
A record crowd of more than 2,300 people, including Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith attended the breakfast at the newly renovated Armory.
In downtown St. Paul, another crowd packed the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts for the state’s annual King Day observance.
Dayton reflected on the progress Minnesota has made toward racial and socioeconomic equality, adding that there is still more to do.
“There’s so much left undone, and, in fact, too much is getting worse, not better,” he said, mentioning the 2016 police shooting of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights and the 2017 bombing of an Islamic mosque in Bloomington.
In remarks that drew roars of approval, Dayton called President Donald Trump “the worst public perpetrator of racism, bigotry and intolerance.” Other speakers also criticized Trump and condemned his recent reported vulgar comments on Haiti and African nations.
The loudest applause was reserved for Carter and state Rep. Ilhan Omar, DFL-Minneapolis, both of whom spoke about their upbringings and personal experiences as black leaders.
“I know that when we interact with those we fear and hate, we will find commonality,” Omar said. “Hope will be found by understanding that our diversity is essential [for] the American dream and why we need each other to fulfill it.”
She continued: “No one today has the privilege of inaction. No one has the privilege of saying, ‘This is not my battle.’ If we are not actively fighting against regressive ideologies, we are contributing to making them grow.”
Carter, in an energetic speech, said that King’s dreams of equality have yet to be fulfilled. “What if Dr. Martin Luther King was alive today? What would he say?” Carter said. “I think — maybe we can all agree — that he would be gravely concerned.”
Carter thanked people who had supported him in his youth and asked St. Paul residents to work with him to accomplish his administration’s goals. “I’m asking you not to send me to City Hall,” he said. “I’m asking you to go there with me.”
Monday’s speakers couldn’t go without mentioning the Minnesota Vikings’ miracle victory over the New Orleans Saints in downtown Minneapolis on Sunday night.
“We stand today reminded of not just one, but two incredible men who have pressed forward in the face of incredible odds to defeat the impossible,” Carter said. “Of course I’m talking about Stefon Diggs and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” Diggs is the wide receiver who caught the last-second touchdown pass that won the game for the Vikings.
Oyelowo began his speech by touching on the team’s come-from-behind victory.
“It would be remiss of me to begin today without acknowledging last night,” he said, raising his hands. He was wearing two purple mittens with the words “BOLD NORTH” written on the palms.