Learn more about the landmarks throughout Chester and Philadelphia that played major roles in Martin Luther King Jr.'s life in the fight for equal justice and equal rights.
Whether you are at one of the locations right now or just looking to learn more about Dr. King, we hope that these references below inspire you to get out in your communities and make change.
Calvary Baptist Church (1616 W. 2nd St., Chester, PA.)
Perhaps one of the most influential stops in Martin Luther King Jr.’s journey, Chester’s Crozer Theological Seminary, is what first brought Dr. King to the Philadelphia area from 1948-1951. Upon his arrival he discovered he was one of only 11 black students at the seminary at the time which caused him to be self-conscious initially. He later thrived in the program, becoming class president in his third year and graduating with honors as the class valedictorian. During his time at Crozer, King was first exposed to the idea of pacifism. This later helped to develop his ideology of non-violent protesting as a means of social reform.
Crozer Theological Seminary (1 Medical Center Blvd, Upland, PA.)
When Martin Luther King was attending Crozer Theological Seminary, he became very close to Reverend J. Pius Barbour, the reverend at Calvary Baptist Church at the time. Barbour played an almost fatherlike figure to King during his studies and he often returned to the Church well after his time at Crozer. In fact, the church was one of his first stops after winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. To date, a little piece of history still stands in the church. When Rev. Bayard Taylor took over in 2000, he told a story of how he sought to remove a mirror that was hanging in his office until he was told that Dr. King wondered aloud “Who am I?” while gazing into that mirror during his visit after winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
During Dr. King’s August 1965 visit to Philadelphia, he gave a speech at the Baptist Temple, now known as the Temple Performing Arts Center. Prior to delivering his speech at Girard College later that day, King focused on the housing issues that incurred as a result of segregation while speaking at the Temple.
In May of 1965, protests led by activist Cecil B. Moore began taking place at Girard College in an effort to desegregate the school. Upon hearing of the protests happening, Dr. King came to Philadelphia in August to attend a large rally, lending his voice and helping champion the cause. After three years of legal battles, the US Supreme Court ruled to strike down the “whites-only rule” and Girard College admitted four black men who began school on September 11, 1968.
MLK at Lancaster Mural (4000 Lancaster Ave., Philadelphia, PA.)
During King’s same visit to Philadelphia in August 1965, he gave a historic speech at the intersection of 40th and Lancaster. The speech drew an estimated 10,000 Philadelphians to the area who came to hear King speak of the need for “freedom now.” Today his “Freedom Now” speech is commemorated with a mural called “MLK at Lancaster” by artist Cliff Eubanks.
Additional Locations Throughout the Region
- 753 Walnut St., Camden, NJ- This location in Camden may not be an address that jumps off the page to most, however this was a crucial setting for Martin Luther King’s legacy. It was at this Rowhome that Dr. King, along with one of his friends, first came up with the plan to sit-in at Mary’s Place, a bar in Maple Shade in 1950. This was the first sit-in in New Jersey. Though it is not known for sure if he lived in the here at the time, it is well established that he spent time at the Rowhome during his time at Crozer Theological Seminary.
- University of Pennsylvania- During King’s time at Crozer he sought to broaden his learning beyond theology by auditing philosophy classes at the University of Pennsylvania. Officially King has three courses on his transcript from his time at Penn, however it is believed he likely took classes unofficially with William Fontaine. Fontaine, University of Pennsylvania’s first tenured black professor, became good friends with King and the two often had lunch together. King’s time at Penn was important as it provided him exposure to Northern professors who were less influenced by Christianity than those he learned from at Crozer.
- Lincoln University- Though not exactly Philadelphia, Dr. King’s ties to Lincoln University are worth noting. On June 6, 1961, Martin Luther King Jr. received an honorary Doctorate of Law from the University. He also provided the commencement speech for the graduating class, a speech entitled “The American Dream.” Dr. King is renowned for his “I Have A Dream” speech, however this lesser-known speech provided crucial food for thought at the time about America as a dream yet unfulfilled. His commencement speech likely led to his infamous “I Have A Dream” speech he delivered in 1963.
- Bright Hope Baptist Church- King’s presence in North Philadelphia also includes his ties to the Bright Hope Baptist Church. On October 27, 1963, King came and spoke at the ground breaking ceremony for the new $1.2 million church. Prior to the new church, King had actually preached at the previous church four years before attending the ground breaking ceremony.
- Villanova University- On January 20, 1965, at the peak of the Selma movement, Martin Luther King visited Philadelphia and delivered a speech to roughly 4,000 students at Villanova University. The impact of King’s presence and his influence on the Civil Rights movement are recognized every year with annual events in his honor. Each year, Villanova hosts a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Keynote address as well as their annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Lecture. Both events serve as an opportunity to remember King’s legacy and continue striving towards the yet unfinished American dream.
- 13th and Fitzwater Street- One last stop on Dr. King’s August 1965, was a visit that saw him deliver a speech at the corner of 13th Street and Fitzwater Street. This speech was a part of his tour of northern cities supporting the Civil Rights movement. The speech was a rallying cry for allies to march on Washington D.C. with him, exclaiming “If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl, but make it your business to be part of the March on Washington.” Today that area is known as the Martin Luther King Plaza and it is marked with a commemorative plaque, unveiled on the 44th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination.