Causes > Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Service
Among the startling succession of events that rocked the nation in the spring of 1968 - and exacerbated tensions on campus - was the assassination of civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4 in Memphis, Tennessee. At Columbia, Chaplain John D. Cannon organized a University memorial service to take place in St. Paul's Chapel on April 9.
The well-attended memorial proceeded as planned until midway through some remarks by Provost Truman, when Mark Rudd, the chairman of Columbia’s SDS branch, left his seat in the nave and proceeded to the pulpit. Unchecked by Chaplain Cannon, Rudd commandeered the microphone and declared the service an "obscenity" considering Columbia's mistreatment of blacks and workers on campus, for whom King gave his life. Rudd then descended from the pulpit walked down the main aisle, followed by about forty other attendees, and left the chapel.
Chaplain Cannon's tacit condoning of Rudd's right to speak his views angered President Kirk and Provost Truman, as well as some faculty in attendance, but made administrative disciplinary action out of the question.
Crowds leaving St. Paul's Chapel after the the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial service, April 9, 1968.
"The King Memorial - Why We Disrupted" from Up Against the Wall, SDS's newsletter, April 22, 1968 (p. 3)