MLK Day: Remembering His First Visit to Iowa
Today, January 17, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is being celebrated across the country. The Baptist preacher and leader of the civil rights movement were critical to ending legal segregation in the United States.
Iowa has been celebrating the holiday since 1989.
What few UNI alumni know -- and fewer residents of the state know -- is that MLK visited Cedar Falls and spoke in the university's Lang Hall during one of his many treks across the country. His first visit to the Hawkeye State and Black Hawk County came in 1959. Northern Iowa was known as the Iowa State Teacher's College at the time.
According to kwwl.com, "The King family frequently made stops in Waterloo to talk about social services, education, and housing. They visited the public library, the Black's Building, Waterloo East High School, area churches and often stayed at the Russell Lamson Hotel."
King made roots in the Cedar Valley but was sure to spread his reach across the state as well. He and his wife, Coretta, stopped in Davenport, Cedar Rapids, and Des Moines to speak and connect with others in regards to equal rights and social justice.
Charles Pearson, a Waterloo historian who founded Pearson Consulting LLC, spoke with KWWL about King's visits to the Cedar Valley. They spoke about his message: "White and black people can sit at the table together, and say 'Look. Not only can we have a conversation, but we can also get some things accomplished on a broader scope talking to Dr. Martin Luther King and implementing his vision,'" Pearson said.
To see some of the places the Kings stayed and would like to see other sites with historical significance, you can visit the Iowa Civil Rights Trail in Waterloo.
If you'd like to serve the Cedar Valley today, you can visit the UNI-Dome at UNI, where 'Back Packin' the Dome' will take place. UNI athletes and staff as well as people from around the community will be packing backpacks for the Northeast Iowa Food Bank's Backpack Program.