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Civil Rights Leaders Speak at Carnegie Hall

On February 23, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. served as the keynote speaker for a benefit at Carnegie Hall that marked the 100th birthday of author and civil rights activist W. E. B. Du Bois, who had died in 1963. In his tribute, 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.

Du Bois himself spoke at Carnegie Hall several times, in addition to two other civil rights leaders—Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey—who represented opposing philosophies of the movement. Washington appeared often at Carnegie Hall between 1896 and 1915. At a meeting in support of the Tuskegee Institute in 1908, he declared, “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.”

Du Bois 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.”

Du Bois was a reluctant participant in the 1904 conference as he had already publicly broken with Washington, whose views he found too conservative. Far less moderate than either was Garvey, whom Du Bois 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 Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Speaking at the Hall in 1924, Garvey declared, “We will show that men can live together without killing each other, without fighting each other, and without being unfair.”


Photography: King and Du Bois Peck, and King at Carnegie Hall by James E. Hinton, courtesy of Norma Rogers / Carnegie Hall Rose Archives; Washington courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Rose Archives; Garvey courtesy of the George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress.

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