The Williams College Libraries conveniently maintain a PDF of the Williams Record coverage of Dr. King’s 1961 visit to Williams College.
John Kifner ’63 did the reporting for the Record. He would go on to receive the Williams Bicentennial Medal in 2002 after a storied career as a New York Times reporter at home and abroad, and in his reporting on Dr. King’s visit, readers can see a preview of his later reportage:
“Life at its best and as it should be lived is complete on all sides,” came the deep, vibrant voice from the pulpit.
A free chapel cut last Sunday brought the irony of the first [standing room only] audience at chapel within recent memory, with WMS piping the sermon to a large overflow in Baxter Hall…
The curious came away satisfied, for Dr. King is a vigorous and compelling speaker. After chapel, another overflow crowd awaited in Jesup Hall for a question and answer session on civil rights. Many had already attended his talk on the philosophy of non-violent resistance at the WCC dinner.
The reference to the “free chapel cut” is a reminder that — although students began to protest against mandatory religious worship even in the late 19th century — chapel remained compulsory at Williams College almost until the College became coeducational. By the 1960s, even the clergy were suggesting a change. Here’s Rev. Nicholas B. Phelps ’56, assistant rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church, later in 1961 (also in the Record):
“A religious service is designed as an expression of the life of a community. The college chapel uses it as a means of education, which is fundamentally treacherous to the tradition to which you are trying to expose people.”
Back to Dr. King’s visit. In contrast to the usual newspaper format where the lead article would provide the facts of Dr. King’s visit, the longer of Kifner’s two Record articles is really an overview on Dr. King, the civil rights movement, and non-violent civil disobedience, leaving an account of Dr. King’s speech and activities to the brief sidebar, quoted above. That article gives only the briefest description of the substance of Dr. King’s sermon:
At chapel, King spoke on the “Three Dimension of the Complete Man.” The first dimension, length, he defined as the development of a rational and healthy self-interest. “Before we can love others adequately, we must love ourselves properly,” he stated.
Breadth, he defined as “concern for others . . . the ability to rise above individual concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” He cited the Good Samaritan as one who “projected the I into the Thou . . . . God, he said, is interested in the freedom of the whole human race.
The last dimension, height, is the ability to rise above the mere sensate of life, to grope for God and Faith…
Surprisingly, the Record ran no follow-up commentary to Dr. King’s visit, although in February, 1962, it did identify his speech as one of the four most newsworthy Williams moments of 1961 (alongside President Sawyer’s installation, an upset win over Amherst in football, and a run of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” at the AMT). And over time, it proved an occasion long remembered at Williams, one worth remembering as we celebrate Dr. King’s birthday and legacy.