MLK historical marker celebrated at South

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published September 7, 2021

 From left, Grosse Pointes-Harper Woods NAACP President Cynthia Douglas, of Grosse Pointe Woods; new NAACP chapter member Joan Morris, of Grosse Pointe Woods; and Margaret Hudson-Collins, of Grosse Pointe Park, stand with the state historical marker commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 speech at Grosse Pointe South High School in Grosse Pointe Farms. Douglas and Hudson-Collins were among the founding members of the GP-HW NAACP chapter.

From left, Grosse Pointes-Harper Woods NAACP President Cynthia Douglas, of Grosse Pointe Woods; new NAACP chapter member Joan Morris, of Grosse Pointe Woods; and Margaret Hudson-Collins, of Grosse Pointe Park, stand with the state historical marker commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 speech at Grosse Pointe South High School in Grosse Pointe Farms. Douglas and Hudson-Collins were among the founding members of the GP-HW NAACP chapter.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

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GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Representatives from the Grosse Pointe Public School System, Michigan Historical Commission and Grosse Pointe Board of Realtors were among those on hand Aug. 30 to celebrate a state historical marker at Grosse Pointe South High School commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 speech there.

Only three weeks after King delivered his speech, “The Other America,” on March 14, 1968, the civil rights icon was assassinated.

“We talk a lot about One GP in the school district,” GPPSS Superintendent Jon Dean said. “This historical marker is a great example of ‘One Community,’ as it brought many people and organizations together to make it a reality.”

Those organizations and individuals include the Grosse Pointe Board of Realtors, National Association of Realtors, the Michigan Historical Commission, Grosse Pointe South High School Mothers’ Club, Grosse Pointe South High School Preservation Committee, South administrators and Grosse Pointe News publisher John Minnis.

Tobi Voigt, engagement director for the Michigan History Center, congratulated the community, noting that getting the marker “is a rigorous, rigorous process” and took a couple of years to complete.

Emmajean Evans, of Grosse Pointe City, was one of the local residents on hand for the presentation.

“I think this is very important for Grosse Pointe to still recognize a leader from yesterday today,” said Evans, noting that racism remains a problem. “I think if we recognize that there is some truth in his message, we might be better for it today.”

Margaret Hudson-Collins, of Grosse Pointe Park, one of the founding members of the Grosse Pointes-Harper Woods Branch of the NAACP, said her children went to Grosse Pointe public schools, but King’s famous speech at South wasn’t discussed.

“Sadly, my kids did not grow up knowing that Martin Luther King gave a speech here,” Hudson-Collins said.

There were also a few residents who personally remembered King’s appearance at South. Joan Morris, of Grosse Pointe Woods, who was then a college sophomore, was in the audience that day.

“I was just fascinated, and I was in awe of this man,” Morris said. “He was the most powerful speaker. When I listen to him, I still get chills.”

Like many other attendees of the Aug. 30 presentation, she said the racial injustices King battled are still all too prevalent.

“There are still two Americas,” Morris said. “The fight is not over.”

Ann Eatherly, of Grosse Pointe Park, was a social studies teacher at South when King gave his speech, and she was among those who got tickets to the sold-out talk.

“I have heard forceful speakers in my life, and he was the most powerful,” Eatherly said of King. “You could tell that he wasn’t full of anger and hate — he was full of love and concern.”

Eatherly also remembered the protesters.

“There was a lot of fear Martin Luther King would be assassinated in Grosse Pointe,” Eatherly said.

Ultraconservative activist Donald Lobsinger and his Detroit organization, Breakthrough, led a protest inside and outside the school against King’s appearance.

Lobsinger, who died in 2018 at age 84, told Grosse Pointe Times Staff Writer Maria Allard in 2017 that his protest wasn’t race-related.

“It had absolutely nothing to do with the color of his skin,” said Lobsinger, of St. Clair Shores. “We were an anti-communist organization. We were protesting against King because of his communist affiliations. He supported the communists our soldiers were fighting in Vietnam.”

Attendees of King’s talk said Breakthrough members interrupted and booed King during his talk, while protesters outside harassed attendees en route. A Breakthrough flyer inviting others to protest King’s speech called King a “traitor” and warned, “LET HIM COME IF HE DARES!”

Not everyone who wanted tickets was able to get them to King’s speech, and some of those who couldn’t see King in person opted to show their support of the civil rights leader outside the school.

Harry Kurtz, of Grosse Pointe Shores, a 1968 graduate of what was then known as Grosse Pointe High School, remembers being horrified by the Breakthrough protest, so he and a group of friends mounted a counterprotest across the street.

“We were shocked by the behavior of the people who were against Dr. King,” Kurtz said.

Bill Schaefer, of Grosse Pointe Woods, another student who protested against Breakthrough, said Breakthrough “was getting a little inappropriate” in language and action. The counterprotesters only numbered about eight to 10 — Breakthrough had an estimated 50 to 100 protesters — but they made up for their small numbers in vigor.

“We started lobbing snowballs at (the Breakthrough protesters), so the police came and chased us off,” Schaefer said.

A local newspaper that reported the youths were throwing snowballs at traffic was incorrect, Kurtz and Schaefer said.

Attendees hope the marker — and King’s own words — will, as Grosse Pointe Board of Realtors President Alexis DeLuca said, “continue to inspire generations to come.”

“Martin Luther King could give the same speech, ‘The Other America,’ today, and it would have the same meaning and resonance,” Hudson-Collins said. “We’ve made progress, but there’s still so much that needs to be done.”

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