bust of martin luther king jr on chapman campus

Chapman Remembers the Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1983, what started as an ordinary day for Cheryl Hisatomi McNabb ’84 became something much more after a trip into the basement of the old Chapman College library. McNabb, a chemistry major, was working on a research paper for her “Great Personalities in History” course when she uncovered a surprising lead in the card catalog: a reference to the speech Dr. Martin Luther King gave at Chapman, more than 20 years before. 

Finding Treasure in the Archives

“It was a large reel-to-reel tape,” McNabb recounts. “It was a huge monstrosity; the size of a suitcase and very heavy. I threaded the tape [into the machine] and hit play. I will never forget sitting alone in a room in the library and listening to Dr. King’s voice as he addressed Chapman!”

McNabb had long been enamored with King and the role he played in the Civil Rights Movement. But until she uncovered the recording, she had no idea that he had once spoken at Chapman.

“I felt like Indiana Jones because I had found a treasure! My heart was beating hard and fast and my body felt transported to that place and time. It was a glorious moment during my time at Chapman,” she says.

It’s a favorite memory for McNabb, who eventually went on to become a teacher, and was always sure to share her discovery with her students when covering Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. 

Today, thanks to the internet, Dr. King’s 1961 speech at Chapman is easily accessible to all. But the effect it has is just as profound as it was for McNabb, sitting alone in that stuffy basement so long ago. 

Meaningful Conversations on Race Make a Lasting Impression

In 1961, two years before Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial, Dennis Short ‘64 (M.A. ‘85) served on the committee that helped bring King to Chapman. 

“I had heard Dr. King’s speeches before, but never in person. I was very excited,” Short, who was a freshman at the time,  remembers. “There were very few African American students at Chapman then, but the event seemed to have support from the faculty and the students.”

Active in civil rights issues, Short found King’s speech to be deeply profound and was honored to have him speak at Chapman. 

“I am proud that Chapman hosted Dr. King, and I believe his presence on Chapman’s campus contributed to meaningful conversations on race that, for me, lasted throughout my ministry,” Short says.

Following the speech, Short rode in the car with two other professors to take King to the airport for his flight home. 

“It was amazing. He was my hero, so to have time alone with him in the car on the ride to the airport was so special. I wouldn’t let anyone sit where he sat for a while,” Dennis says.

From the Civil Rights Movement to Black Lives Matter

This year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day would have been King’s 92nd birthday. And although his speech at Chapman took place over 60 years ago, many recent events in our country, such as the Black Lives Matter protests in response to police brutality, have proven that America still struggles with many issues regarding race and equity. 

“There is obviously so much more work to do,” says Short. “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message was extremely relevant to what is happening in our country today. I can imagine him leading Black Lives Matter demonstrations, and celebrating the swearing in of Kamala Harris as Vice President of the United States.”

Staci Dumoski