The city of Columbia has felt the impact of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in countless ways. We are lucky to have rare photographs of the great man in our local newspaper archive.
On September 28, 1959, Dr. King was invited by Rev. Matthew D. McCollom of Orangeburg and other local leaders to attend an honorary banquet at the Township Auditorium. He stayed in Columbia through September 30 and delivered an address at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference at the Township. King was photographed by a news photographer for The State newspaper beforehand.
Several years later a local photographer traveled to Kingstree, S.C. to see Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speak at the Tomlinson High School athletic field. King encouraged voter participation in upcoming elections and called for a "march on the ballot boxes" by South Carolina voters to protect and expand civil rights. The photographer captured several moments of this speech and the crowd in attendance.
It is a little known fact that King was scheduled to appear at Zion Baptist Church on Washington Street in Columbia on April 3, 1968. However, he canceled this appearance to stay in Memphis, Tennessee for further work with a Sanitation Workers’ strike there. It was during this extended stay that King was tragically assassinated at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis on April 4, 1968. He was only 39 years old.
Columbians, like the rest of the country, were distraught at the news of King’s assassination. Anger swelled and local businesses closed to prevent looting. The Governor, fearful of more rioting, imposed a curfew on the city for several nights following the assassination.
But of course, King’s legacy would not be stamped out. On the second anniversary of his death a group of King’s followers marched to the State House to commemorate his life.
This annual march continues today, and King’s words, sacrifice, and legacy will always be remembered. His impact on us reverberates today.