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Home and History: Martin Luther King Jr.'s speeches at IWU

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BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (WEEK) -- -

Today we remember a famous activist who made his mark right here in the Heart of Illinois.           

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s major role in the road to civil rights was heard across the country.

And it was heard in person by many in Bloomington

25 News anchor Tyler Lopez explains from the campus of Illinois Wesleyan University for our next installment of 200 Years from the Heart: Celebrating Illinois.

The voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was heard here at Illinois Wesleyan University as the fight for civil rights unfolds.

In 1961, race relations were tense across the country and here in the heart of Illinois. This was the year King made his first visit to the Bloomington campus.

Archivist and special collections librarian Meg Miner shares pieces of that historic day.

"It certainly looks like there are at least several hundred people in the room. But, there weren't a lot of other documentary kinds of evidence left behind other than the flyer and the program from that event," said IWU archivist Meg Miner.

King's speeches encouraged nonviolent protest.

Miner emphasizes that this was all made possible because of students. They started with these fliers, and tickets at just $2 a piece.

And on that day in February, history was made for the state of Illinois and IWU.

While he couldn't attend the special visit, former IWU history professor Paul Bushnell remembers that era, Vividly.

"I could see right away... the injustice of segregating people who were colored from the rest of the population," said Bushnell.

In just his twenties, Bushnell joined sit-ins. He says at times he was tortured by protesters being hit and covered with cigarette ashes.

King and the civil rights movement motivated Bushnell to study the quest for equality and African American history. He spent several decades teaching at Illinois Wesleyan.

"People getting attacked because they are trying to change the racial picture in America. That causes some people to really to double their determination,” said Bushnell.

King returned to Illinois Wesleyan in 1966. This time, thousands were in attendance.

"The fact that he won a Nobel, that he had become more known nationally, drew a larger audience for them that even had to be held in what was called the Fred Young Fieldhouse. I don't know exactly how many people it seated, but there were certainly thousands of people, I would say, there,” said Miner.

Bushnell says these visits changed the local dialogue immensely.

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