By Ren Clayton

Originally published Jan. 16, 2022

MANKATO, Minn. (WCCO) — Before the “I Have a Dream” speech, or most of the iconic moments in Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, he came to Mankato, Minnesota to speak. Research for a film about that event revealed some specific details.

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Jameel Haque — director of the Kessel Peace Institute at Minnesota State University, Mankato — is co-producer of a documentary about King’s 1961 visit.

“It definitely contained an element of threat to his physical safety, and that’s manifested in the fact that he was always with his bodyguards,” Haque said.

Haque and Ryan Sturgis, the movie’s director and co-producer, interviewed two people who were on hand at the event to see him speak.

“That was the amazing thing, because the other theme of this story is that Martin Luther King came to a primarily, almost-entirely white community,” Sturgis said.

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The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during his Mankato visit (credit: MSU-Mankato)

Centenary United Methodist Church invited King. He was in town for one day only, giving two sermons to standing-room crowds, plus the main event: his speech at Mankato West High in front of at least 1,200 people.

“Who they saw was a new face with a new perspective, and it stuck with them,” Sturgis said.

“A message that must have been unsettling for these people in Mankato at the time,” Haque said. “This is a legacy that we need to acknowledge and celebrate. As well as allows us to reflect on how much and how little has changed in Mankato.”

The film, entitled “MLK 11.12.61,” which is the date he was in Mankato. Some of the interviews were done on the same stage at West High School where King spoke 60 years ago.

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The film’s virtual premiere will be Monday at 1:30 p.m. Click here for more information.

Ren Clayton