Marked by history

A historical marker honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1966 visit to campus. Learn how students — both then and now — made it happen.

People gathered on stage at Mcfarlin Auditorium to commemorate the plaque dedication for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

On March 17, 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered an hour-long address to a packed house in SMU’s McFarlin Auditorium. Students, faculty and staff filled the 2,700-seat auditorium a year after an SMU group joined Dr. King on the Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march.

On February 21, 2023, SMU unveiled a Texas Historical Marker to celebrate this important moment in SMU's history. The evening featured SMU President R. Gerald Turner, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, Richie Butler ’93, SMU students who pursued the historic designation and the St. Luke Community UMC Choir. Butler, SMU alumnus and trustee, senior pastor of St. Luke Community UMC and founder of Project Unity, gave a moving speech on the legacy and long-term impact of King’s visit to campus. The event also recognized the SMU students who made it happen — both then and now.

SMU President R. Gerald Turner, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, Richie Butler ’93, and SMU students who pursued the historic designation

Watch highlights from the event

Students then: Making it happen

Dr. King’s invitation to speak arrived via a two-page letter from then-SMU Student Senate Vice President Bert Moore ’66, who had participated in the march to Montgomery. Moore, now deceased, and fellow student Charles Cox ’67, ’75, ’79 met Dr. King at the airport and hosted him during his Dallas visit.

Jerry LeVias ’69, the pioneering SMU student who was the first Black athlete to receive an athletic scholarship in the Southwest Conference, still treasures his opportunity to meet one-on-one with Dr. King. Others, such as Student Senate treasurer Fred Hegi ’66, remember sitting on the stage while Dr. King delivered his speech.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at SMU in 1966This might’ve been forgotten by the 1980s were it not for Clarence Glover, Jr., who was then director of Intercultural Education and Minority Student Affairs. University President Willis Tate encouraged him to research records of Dr. King’s visit in the DeGolyer Library archives. The recording of Dr. King’s remarks that he found, combined with SMU Campus student newspaper clippings, led to SMU’s annual Unity Walk — an ongoing tradition of over 30 years — and paved the way for the next group of students to continue the work.

There is a place at SMU for folks who are interested in social justice and building a more equitable world.

Jill Kelly, Associate Professor of History

Students now: Carrying the torch

Members of history professor Jill Kelly’s 2018 Doing Oral History class were the first students to conduct, collect and transcribe oral interviews of the Black students who integrated the campus — leading to the creation of the Voices of SMU project with University Archivist Joan Gosnell, which focuses on collecting the stories of underrepresented populations on campus.

“One continuous thing we kept hearing was how Martin Luther King had spoken on campus and how influential it was for the African American students on campus at the time,” says Carson Dudick ’20. Dudick interned in the SMU Archives with Gosnell, conducting research that would ultimately help SMU secure the marker — but not without the later work of Student Senate and other student leaders.

A plaque commemorating Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's visit to SMULamisa Mustafa ’21 and Matt Hutnyan ’21 formed a committee, working with the Association of Black Students, Student Affairs, and the greater SMU Student Senate to draft a proposal for the historical marker and bring it before SMU administration and trustees.

“A lot of work had gone into it,” says Molly Patrick ’21, former student body president. “The Black Unity Forum and different movements across campus really highlighted our desire to commemorate the speech and create a place for a moment of reflection.”

After the resolution was passed, the application was finalized through the Texas Historical Commission. Following this long and meticulous process, the marker now stands just outside McFarlin Auditorium for prospective students, families and passersby all to see.

“There is a place at SMU for folks who are interested in social justice and building a more equitable role,” Kelly says. “This can happen here.”