Thursday, October 29, 2015

50th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Visit to Paris

Last weekend, the American Church in Paris celebrated the 50th anniversary of the sermon that Dr. Martin Luther King delivered there.

Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1964
Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs

On October 24, 1965, Dr. King preached at the American Church during a whirlwind two-day visit to Paris that was instigated by the Féderation Protestante de France (FPF), an organization that has connected Protestant churches and associations throughout France for over 100 years. His intervention at the church was facilitated by the Reverend and Mrs. Martin B. Sargent, who invited Dr. and Mrs. King to stay at their apartment during the Kings' visit.

That Sunday morning in October, the church was packed to overflowing and Dr. King's sermon was well received.

Inside the American Church in Paris
© Discover Paris!

Carving of Dr. King on the pulpit at the American Church
Richard Wessel
1984 Basswood
© Discover Paris!

The FPF also invited Dr. King to speak at the Maison de la Mutualité on the evening of October 24, where he delivered a speech about "a Christian movement in a revolutionary age." He spoke in English to a full house and his words were translated into French by pastor Robert Somerville. He was repeatedly interrupted by applause and was given a ovation at the end of his speech. Afterward, he met with the press for interviews in a small room at the conference venue.

A few days later, Dr. King wrote a letter to Pastor Somerville to thank him for that "extremely accurate translation" of his speech.

Maison de la Mutualité
© Discover Paris!

On October 25, Dr. King spent time with French and foreign pastors from across Paris at the Eglise Reformée de l'Annociation in the 16th arrondissement. He was also interviewed by the FPF for a television show called Présence Protestante (Protestant Presence).

During the interview, Dr. King responded to questions about the practicality of non-violence as a strategy against racial oppression, how he thought his movement would succeed in the north compared to the southern U.S., how the French population could become involved in his struggle, and what Jesus Christ represented to him personally. In his response to the third question, he indicated that French people could lend their support by writing letters to the U.S. government and making financial contributions* to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

The interview was televised on November 7, 1965.

*The September 2015 edition of the ACP newsletter, Spire, reports that the FPF collected and donated 6,125 francs to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.


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