New Exhibit: When MLK And The KKK Met In Raleigh

Jan 21, 2020

One of only a couple of photographs of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at Reynolds Coliseum, NC State campus, July 31, 1966.
Credit Perry Aycock, AP

One of the largest Ku Klux Klan demonstrations in North Carolina was in the summer of 1966.  That’s when Klansmen marched in full regalia through downtown Raleigh. That day was also historic because the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was in the capital city.

King was invited to Raleigh by Shaw University President James E. Cheek, but the event was held on the NC State University campus.

King visited North Carolina many times. The Civil Rights leader even refined his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in Rocky Mount, months before the 1963 March on Washington.

“I have a dream, one day, right here in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will meet at the table of brotherhood…I have a dream," King was recorded saying, November 27, 1962, in a school gymnasium.

Poster outside exhibit, 'When MLK and the KKK Met in Raleigh."
Credit Leoneda Inge / WUNC

But there doesn’t seem to be a recording of King’s address to more than 5,000 people at Reynolds Coliseum at NC State, just a few years later. In fact, NC State Professor Jason Miller says there are barely any photographs either.

“And a magnifying glass is showing me these startling images that were taken by News and Observer photographers on that day," said Miller. "Eight of them were sent out to cover the klan rally, none of them were sent out to cover Dr. King.”

Miller discovered 150 never-before developed photos from that day, July 31, 1966, all from the klan rally on Fayetteville Street. He found them at the at the State Archives of North Carolina.

Some of those photos, and a lesson in history that was almost lost, make up the new exhibit, “When MLK and the KKK Met in Raleigh.”

The KKK and their families were dressed in full regalia as they marched down Fayetteville Street in Raleigh, July 31, 1966.
Credit State Archives of North Carolina

“That really is a startling reminder of what Dr. King’s status was here. He could go to Chicago and speak to 60,000 people," said Miller. "He could come here and nobody wanted to cover it. They sent an AP photographer and a UPI photographer, no one locally to actually snap these iconic images.”

The exhibit at NC State runs through February 7, at the Witherspoon Student Center.