Only a few days after the recent federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., a surprising discovery was made in the Roosevelt Archives. Scattered amongst financial planning documents from the 1950s and 1960s, emerged a folder unceremoniously titled, “General, Financial Campaign, Million Dollar Dinner, 1957.” Although humbly titled, the contents of this folder revealed the far-reaching civil rights legacy at Roosevelt University: a legacy that includes Martin Luther King, Jr.
Within the folder were a few invitations and random news clippings describing a Roosevelt fundraising event which took place on November 21, 1957. However, one name starkly stood out. This dinner boasted many special guests, including Leo Lerner (newspaper tycoon) and Frank Lloyd Wright (the famous architect), but most importantly it noted that an award was to be presented to Martin Luther King of Montgomery, Alabama.
During this nearly forgotten fundraising event in 1957, Roosevelt University powerfully recognized the struggle against racial segregation taking place in the South. Less than two years after the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, led by King in his role of President of the Montgomery Improvement Association, and only in the early stages of Martin Luther King Jr.’s rising cultural and political prominence, Roosevelt awarded King a special Founders and Friends award to commend his activism.
Roosevelt, a school rooted in social justice and founded on principles of racial equality, could not have been a more appropriate institution to recognize King. Although King only spoke for a few minutes, and despite the fact that this event has been largely forgotten by our own institutional history, it serves as a reminder to continue the Roosevelt legacy today: to continue honoring activism and to promote inclusion, social consciousness, and human development.
- Jocelyn Dunlop