This Sunday marks the 50th anniversary to the day of Dr. Martin Luther King’s first public speech given in South Carolina
The May 8, 1966 “March on the Ballot Boxes” speech in Kingstree was one of the just three documented times Dr. King actually spoke in the Palmetto State. It came just one year after President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law that eliminated many of the state legal barriers King and others had spent years protesting.
“He left these words ‘March on Ballot Boxes,’” said National Park Service community specialist Michael Allen, who was five years old when his parents brought him to hear King’s speech. “He was invited by officials, African American officials in Williamsburg County to come to encourage voter registration,” Allen told South Carolina Radio Network.
Allen said it would not be until he was older that he fully understood what went on what Dr. King’s words meant.
Another member of the audience that afternoon was future congressman US Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-SC. “After all the tension that had been rising over the past few months, his speech was one of the first signs that things could get better,” Clyburn wrote in a column previewing Sunday’s event.
Clyburn will be back in Kingstree on Sunday, speaking at the old Tomlinson High School site during the unveiling for a new historical marker. He will be joined by former state legislator and CNN contributor Bakari Sellers, whose father Cleveland Sellers helped organize civil rights protests across South Carolina in the 1960s. Dr. King’s original speech will also be shown on a large screen during the ceremony.
The event starts at 3:30 p.m. sharp. “We will begin the program at the exact time the program began 50 years ago,” Allen said.
The event will be held on the athletic fields at the site of Tomlinson High School, the exact location of Dr. King’s speech on a rainy Mother’s Day in 1966. The school no longer exists, but its fields remain.