Confronting Berlin Walls of Segregation: Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1964 European Tour

Fall 2023 GGR Recipient

Emily Needham (History)

My project explores Martin Luther King Jr’s highly publicized visit to both East and West Berlin. King arrived in September 1964, only a few months after the passage of the Civil Rights Act and just before he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. His remarks focused on his opposition to Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign and emphasized the US government’s responsibility to address not only racial segregation but also the intertwined issues of racism in poverty, joblessness, and police brutality. My project argues that King utilized Berlin as symbolic location in which US American white supremacy could be compared to Hitlerism, and Jim Crow segregation to the Berlin Wall. In this way, he both localized the civil rights movement in terms that the people of Berlin related to, but also internationalized the struggle by speaking about the struggle for freedom on a global platform. Through this project I aim to understand how King’s remarks within Berlin, a city with great symbolic value, fit within his broader international travel and domestic remarks.