Today marks the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington when over 200,000 people heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message. Many are familiar with his famous speeches, but only eight students had the privilege of receiving one-on-one instruction from Dr. King. In 1962, during his tenure at Morehouse College, Dr. King taught eight students Social Philosophy for one semester. The class was comprised of six men from Morehouse and two Spelman women. It is the practice of both colleges to intermix the curriculum to offer students a wide variety of courses toward their majors. Only one year later, Dr. King would stand at the Lincoln Memorial and tell the world “I have a dream.”
For the students’ final exam, Dr. King’s request was a paper answering the question: would Adam Smith or Karl Marx support the nonviolent theory of social change? The civil rights leader held his students to a high standard – with intense reading assignments examining the words of great world leaders.
As for Dr. King’s eight students, they became activists and made their own significant marks in history. Barbara Adams of Spelman College has done extensive work for President Obama and is now a book consultant. She has been in the company of John F. Kennedy when he served hot chocolate to the marchers in Washington and the family of benefactors of Spelman College – the Rockefellers. She still holds her final paper graded by Dr. King himself with a “B” grading.
The late Benjamin Berry Jr. was a minister and professor of history and African American studies at Virginia Wesleyan College. He told his wife that he remembers sitting outside for class with Dr. King, who discussed the topics with his students rather than lecture.
Charles Black, another former student, had been nicknamed “Sit-Down Black” because he was a part of so many sit-ins. He went on to work with his classmate, Julian Bond, on civil rights issues. Aside from being Dr. King’s student. Black and a few other students convinced the reverend to get out of his sick bed with the flu to help with a boycott at Rich’s department store. The store lost $10 million in revenue that year.