3. CCNY Commencement (1963) 

City College of New York

At the height of King’s struggles in Birmingham, which included his jailing and a separate bombing attempt on his life, City College of New York President Buell Gallagher invited King to speak at the college’s commencement. The previous evening, President Kennedy announced that he would propose Civil Rights legislation in Congress; Lyndon B. Johnson would later pass the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Then, the morning King was slated to speak, he found out that NAACP Field Secretary Medgar Evers had been murdered in Mississippi. The air was heavy and intense, as King began by telling the graduates that they would be “moving into a world of catastrophic change and calamitous uncertainty.

The commencement took place at CCNY’s Lewisohn Stadium, an amphitheater on 136th Street that was razed a decade later. In what must have been one of the headiest commencement mornings in New York City history, addresses were given at other college campuses by Peace Corps Director Sargent Shriver, Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, and U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson.