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NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Site of MLK’s 1963 speech is best choice for display

On the heels of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a bill sponsored by City Council members Michelle Chambers, D-at large, and Russ Jehl, R-2nd, is asking the Fort Wayne Public Art Commission to consider possible ways to honor the civil rights activist and commemorate the speech he presented in Fort Wayne 57 years ago.

“As we commemorated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 91st birthday on Jan. 20, 2020, it is important that we never forget his historic visit to Fort Wayne on June 5, 1963,” Chambers said in a statement. “We now have the opportunity to ensure his remarkable speech from this day be captured and displayed through an art exhibition for all to see and experience.”

The resolution requests the city’s Public Art Commission consider creating a public display to commemorate “Dr. King, his visit to Fort Wayne, and his words and message communicated at the event.”

City Council approved the bill 7-0 at its meeting last week.

News-Sentinel.com recommends the commission take on the project and strongly consider locating the public art installation as close as possible to the site of the speech, which was at the Scottish Rite auditorium on West Berry Street at Fairfield, now the University of Saint Francis Robert Goldstine Performing Arts Center.

King, then 34, spoke to an overflow crowd that day in Fort Wayne. It was the same year he wrote his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and gave his historic “I Have a Dream” speech before a quarter million people at The March on Washington.

“We have learned to stand up against the evil system – and still not hate in the process. We have discovered that love works miracles,” King said.

“We will win our freedom and win you in the process. We will develop a divine discontent about discrimination in all its forms, even the subtle form in Indiana. We will speed the day when all men join hands and sing, free at last.”

Jehl said the words King spoke in Fort Wayne that day are difficult to find. “It is our responsibility to preserve the message so that it might be passed down to future generations.”

The commission, which is comprised of 13 members who oversee Fort Wayne’s Public Art Program, is asked to consider whether such a public art installation is feasible and to return to the City Council in early March with a report. The commission’s next meeting is Feb. 25.

The resolution also asks that if the commission chooses to explore such a display it will consult other groups, such as the MLK Club of Fort Wayne, Fort Wayne Community Development, the Fort Wayne History Center, the African/African American Historical Society Museum and members of the faith community.

The vision for the public art commemorating King could take the form of a wall mural or other exterior display. We think public visibility and high foot traffic should be key factors in selecting the best site for such a memorial, and that could include Citizens Square, Headwaters Park or even the new Promenade Park.

But to us, the USF Performing Arts Center makes the most sense.

“USF is interested and open to the possibility,” said Saint Francis President Sister M. Elise Kriss, who is planning to retire on June 30.

The university has been in contact with Dan Baisden of the Arts Commission, according to Reggie Hayes, USF director of external communications, and plans to meet with him to talk further about possible areas near the USF Performing Arts Center downtown.

To honor King’s visit, the site of the speech would be the best choice.