It’s interesting to pause on this Martin Luther King Day, 2015 and remember this year it follows both the 50th anniversary of the “Freedom Summer” of 1964 and the founding of Community Blood Center (CBC) on Sept. 14, 1964. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. received a mixed welcome when he visited Dayton in the fall of 1964 to speak at the “Freedom Forum.”
Try to imagine the excitement of that summer of 1964, a time crackling with the electricity of history in the making. Currents from epic events across the nation swept through the nation, Dayton and CBC with everyone poised for a giant step in history.
Fifty years ago it was “Freedom Summer,” a watershed moment in the long drive for civil rights. Before traveling south to battle segregationists over voting rights, activists were spending two weeks in training at Western College for Women, now part of Miami University.
Bob Schul, a Miami University student who grew up on a West Milton Farm, would travel to the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games that summer and take home the gold medal in the 5,000 meters.
July in Dayton was the clearest month of a dry summer with temperatures hovering in the mid 90’s. Ironically, the International Hockey League chose June 25 to announce that a new team would take the ice in Dayton. They were named “The Gems” just weeks before starting the season in Hara Arena.
The Gems would have to clear the ice for the Nov. 3, 1964 Rolling Stones concert at Hara, where Mick Jagger sang “Time is on My Side.”
A few weeks later, on the snowy night of Nov. 29, 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at the Freedom Forum in the University of Dayton Fieldhouse to a crowd of more than 6,200 about race relations in America, his commitment to nonviolence, and the power of unconditional love.
“I’m convinced, my friends, that we’ve come a long, long way,” King said, adding “the system of segregation is on its deathbed today.” But as protesters gathered outside carrying signs with ugly racial epitaphs, he cautioned America still had “a long, long way to go.”
In July of 1964 Dayton was on a steady, frenzied pace with destiny as it prepared to enter a new age in healthcare. The launch of Community Blood Center, the brainchild of Dr. Ludolph van der Hoeven and Dr. James W. Funkhouser, would make real the unheard of dream of blood on demand. A blood supply ready when needed, at any time, for any patient.
How did the founders know when they were ready? Dr. van der Hoeven is now 95, and he has outlived his friend and co-founder Dr. Funkhouser. But he remembers the decision with absolute clarity: “We said it. And we did it. We saw it through.”
Moving forward with the opening of CBC was bold, but not reckless. It was time. That was the spirit of that exciting year. We remember and honor that spirit today as we honor the vision and leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King.