The imminent visit to Jamaica by United States President Barack Obama has evoked memories of one particular visit to the island by another famous African American, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King JR.
One of the highlights of Dr. King’s visit in 1965 was his address at the graduation of students at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus, on the day of his arrival – July 20. President Obama will hold a “town hall meeting” with young people at the university on Thursday, after his summit with CARICOM leaders at the regional headquarters of the university.
A keen admirer of newly Independent Jamaica at the time Dr. King used as his theme for that 1965 address "Facing the Challenge of a New Age," which would have resonated not only with happenings in Jamaica and the other countries emerging from colonialism, but also the advances then being made in the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.
Among other things, he declared that "the wind of change is blowing… but whenever anything new comes into history, it brings with it new challenges and new responsibilities. The great challenge facing all of us today… is to somehow stand before the opportunities of the moment and face the challenges of the hour with creativity, with commitment and with determination."
Noting that “this is a small world,” he cited the need to “make it a brotherhood,” adding that “we must all learn to live as brothers in this world, or we will all perish as fools.”
Expressing impatience with those who call for those agitating for change to “wait on time,” he declared that “human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God.”
In one of his most memorable lines from that address, he declared that “the time is always right to do right!”
This was not Dr. King's only visit to Jamaica. He made several other trips to the island, but that visit in 1965 was the one on which he made his greatest impact, because of his speech at the UWI and at other public engagements, including the function at which he received the keys to the city of Kingston.
It was during that speech that he declared: "In Jamaica I feel like a human being."
You may listen to an excerpt from Dr. King's UWI speech by clicking on the audio link above.