Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Speaks, February 1968
On February 23, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the keynote speaker at a benefit, marking the 100th birthday of W. E. B. DuBois held at Carnegie Hall. In his tribute that night, King remarked that "Dr. DuBois has left us, but he has not died. The spirit of freedom is not buried in the grave of the valiant."
These words soon assumed added poignancy: On April 4, 1968, scarcely six weeks later, Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis. His speech at Carnegie Hall was his last major public address.
DuBois himself spoke several times at Carnegie Hall. Two other civil rights leaders that spoke here, Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey, represented opposing philosophies of the movement. Taken together, they provide an interesting perspective from which to view Dr. King's tribute.
Washington appeared at Carnegie Hall often between 1896 and 1915. At a meeting in support of the Tuskegee Institute in 1908, Washington said, "One man cannot hold another down in a ditch without remaining there with him. The interests of both races are bound together by a tie that we could not tear asunder if we would."
DuBois and Washington shared the Carnegie Hall stage in January 1904, when they organized an important conference of prominent black leaders. A resolution from the conference stated, "We stand for no compromise … respecting our civil rights, but insist on the equality of all men before the law."
DuBois was a reluctant participant in the 1904 conference, since he had already publicly broken with Washington, whose views he found too conservative. Far less moderate than either was Garvey, whom DuBois labeled "dangerous." Garvey's ideas stirred controversy in an era when lynching was still common. At a meeting of his Universal Negro Improvement Association at Carnegie Hall in 1919, Garvey was introduced as "that fearless man who dares to look a white man in the eye and tell him what he thinks of him." Yet he was a gifted speaker, who espoused ideals of brotherhood and black pride that foreshadowed the movement of the 1960s. Speaking here in 1924, Garvey said "We will show that men can live together without killing each other, without fighting each other and without being unfair."