GPPSS commemorates King’s visit to Grosse Pointe

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published March 6, 2018

 Grosse Pointe Public School System Board of Education Trustee Ahmed Ismail was a sophomore at Grosse Pointe South High School when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. presented his speech, “The Other America,” March 14, 1968.

Grosse Pointe Public School System Board of Education Trustee Ahmed Ismail was a sophomore at Grosse Pointe South High School when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. presented his speech, “The Other America,” March 14, 1968.

Photo by Ahmed Ismail

 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., right, and a spectator greet each other when the civil rights leader visited Grosse Pointe South High School March 14, 1968.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., right, and a spectator greet each other when the civil rights leader visited Grosse Pointe South High School March 14, 1968.

Photo provided by the Grosse Pointe Historical Society

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Three weeks before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed by an assassin in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968, he brought his message of racial equality, peace and unity to the Grosse Pointes.

On the evening of March 14, 1968, the civil rights leader stood at a podium inside the Grosse Pointe South High School gymnasium and presented his “The Other America” speech to a crowd of approximately 2,700 people. At the time, the school was known as Grosse Pointe High School.

With the 50-year anniversary of King’s visit to Grosse Pointe approaching, the Grosse Pointe Public School System will mark the occasion with an event March 14 at South High School.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to be a part of this and to host it,” GPPSS Superintendent Gary Niehaus said. “It’s a major event in history for the Grosse Pointes.”

Several activities are planned in an effort to re-create the mood that King set 50 years ago during his speech. The March 14 festivities will begin at 6 p.m., when doors to South’s Wicking Library will open and guests can view student artwork related to King’s message. Elementary school students created pieces around the theme “Courage,” while the “Does ‘The Other America’ Still Exist” theme inspired secondary-level students.

At 7 p.m., South High School Principal Moussa Hamka will welcome everyone to the school’s main gymnasium to introduce master of ceremonies Robert Bury from the Detroit Historical Society.

By 7:15 p.m., history will come alive, as a video of those who attended King’s speech in 1968 will be shown. Organizers have set aside 7:20-8 p.m. for a live reading of “The Other America” as recited by students, community leaders, clergy and educators.

Brenda Tindal, of the Detroit Historical Society, will take the stage at 8:15 p.m., and at 8:20 p.m., it will be time for educators to recognize student competition winners. The activities are scheduled to end at 8:30 p.m.

Tickets to the event cost $1 for students and $2 for the general public and will benefit the district’s diversity plan. Those who purchase tickets online will have their names placed on a list at the door. They can bring their email receipts as their tickets or can pick up printed tickets in advance at any of the high school or middle school offices.

Tickets also can be purchased on the district’s website at gpschools.org under “headlines and features,” or at all the secondary schools in the district. Many people already have made plans to attend the 50-year anniversary.

“We have several hundred members in our branch, and many of them are parents, grandparents and/or graduates of GPPS,” Grosse Pointes-Harper Woods NAACP President Greg Bowens said in an email. “So we expect lots of people will be there to mark the occasion, support students and build on our shared history as we continue to walk together as one community towards a brighter future for everyone.”

The 50-year anniversary of King’s speech is part of the Grosse Pointe Historical Society’s Bicknell Lecture Series 2017-2018. According to a Grosse Pointe Historical Society press release, the Grosse Pointe Human Relations Council, a group of concerned citizens who worked for changes like fair housing, invited King to speak in 1968.

“You have to remember, there was still a point system based on your ethnic background to buy a house in the Grosse Pointes,” said Grosse Pointe Historical Society board of trustees member Mike Skinner, who plans to attend the event.

King had not asked for a speaking fee, but the GPHRC insisted on presenting him with a $1,000 contribution. According to the press release, the high school was closed at 4 p.m. on the day of the speech so a bomb squad could sweep the building.

“The FBI had undercover agents on-site, and a 10-man riot squad was staged across the street,” the press release states. “Dr. King’s drive from the Statler Hilton Hotel in Detroit was fortunately uneventful. When the car arrived at the school, Grosse Pointe Farms Police Chief John Roh got into the front seat and sat on King’s lap in order to protect him. The car then drove around to the gymnasium door at the back of the school.”

As King’s visit approached, local resident Donald Lobsinger had organized a demonstration with the group Breakthrough to protest the visit. Members of the anti-communist organization demonstrated against King inside and outside the school. According to various historical sources, King did speak out against the Vietnam War.

According to the press release, after King’s assassination, the New York Times newspaper stated that the FBI report on King’s assassin, James Earl Ray, placed him in Windsor, Ontario, on March 14, 1968, but there is no information on whether or not he came across the border on that day.

The Grosse Pointe Historical Society’s website, www.gphistori cal.org, includes a full transcript of King’s speech along with an audio clip from the speech, photos and more. Grosse Pointe South High School is located at 11 Grosse Pointe Blvd. in Grosse Pointe Farms.