Ink Pond article for the Cornellian


Ink Pond article for the Cornellian


Cornell College


Article written by former archivist Michelle Holschuh Simmons for the Cornellian in 2002.

Ink Pond article for the Cornell ian
Michelle Holschuh Simmons
Consulting Librarian for the Arts & Humanities and College Archivist
On October 15, 1962, nearly a year before the rest of the country heard his rousing
adaptation of a Negro spiritual, Dr. Martin Luther King closed his speech to the Cornell College
community at King Chapel with "Free at last, free at last! Thank God almighty we are free at
last!" As we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on January 21st and Black History Month in
February, we might reflect on a few of the many civil rights leaders who have inspired the
Cornell community with their visits to campus.
From its very inception as an institution of higher learning, Cornell has brought to
campus world-renowned civil rights leaders. In 1859, even before the Civil War and only a few
years after Cornell was founded, Frederick Douglass visited campus. Described as a "tornado of
power" and a "polished orator" by a Cornell student, Frederick Douglass conferred with
President Samuel Fellows about the injustices of slavery.
Then on a Friday evening in January, 1900, Booker T. Washington came to Cornell to
deliver his address entitled "Negro Problem in the South" to a packed auditorium of students and
faculty members. The author of the Jan. 20, 1900, Cornell ian article that chronicled his visit
reported that "seldom has a lecturer at Cornell been greeted with so large an audience," and that
the "attentive" and "appreciative" crowd interrupted Washington frequently with "hearty
In his introduction of Washington, Frank Armstrong (class of 1900), one of the first
African-American students to graduate from Cornell, dubbed Washington the "Moses of our
Race" and added that "Christian education is the only,means of improving the negro's
condition." Armstrong made such a positive impression on Washington that he later became the
prominent intellectual's personal assistant.
Then in 1962, Martin Luther King, Jr. visited campus and delivered a lengthy address at
King Chapel. Central to King's speech were two myths about the process of getting rid of
racism that he debunked: the myth of time and the myth of education. He argued that neither
time nor education alone will improve the situation of African-Americans. Instead, he claimed,
legislation is imperative in the attainment of equal rights.
With consistent references to the Bible and to the works of philosophers such as William
James and Aristotle, King argued that non-violent means are the most effective way of effecting
widespread change. Regarding non-violent methods, King stated, "It leaves an opponent
frustrated and disarmed, and he is finally glutted with his own barbarity."
King also argued that it is fear that keeps the races apart. He told the Cornell audience, "I
am convinced that men hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other
because they don't communicate with each other, and they don't communicate with each other
because they are separated from each other."
Among the other notable African-Americans who have visited Cornell are W.E.B.
Dubois in 1905 and Jesse Jackson in 1987. Cornell's tradition of attention to human rights
remains strong still today, with noted scholar Cornel West visiting just last year.


Michelle Holschuh


Cornell College Archives in Cole Library


The Cornellian




Cornell College


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Michelle Holschuh , “Ink Pond article for the Cornellian,” Cornell College Archives, accessed May 21, 2019,

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