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A look at Martin Luther King Jr's visit to UAPB

Today, we're honoring the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by taking a look back at a piece of history that happened right here in Central Arkansas.

PINE BLUFF, Ark. — History can sometimes feel far away, especially for events that happened many lifetimes ago. At the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, that history isn't just nearby— it's a lot closer than you might think.

"It's probably the best kept secret," Elbert Bennett, Vice-Chancellor for Student Affairs, said.

While UAPB students may learn history from textbooks, history is all around them, right on campus.

"It took a very courageous act to be able to invite Dr. King to UAPB in 1958 to speak," Bennett said.

64 years ago, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke as the 83rd Commencement speaker at the then Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical, and Normal College.

At the time, it was a risk— many in Arkansas didn't agree with or even like King.

"It was not accepted because Dr. King was labeled by some as a visionary and he was labeled by some as a troublemaker," Bennett said.

Though history isn't easy to spot while it's happening, Bennett showed us a section of the University Museum and Cultural Center that contains artifacts from when King was on campus.

Pictures, announcement sheets, and more all showcase his visit in 1958.

"During that time, they probably had no idea of the historic moment that was being made and that they were a part of," Bennett said.

While history now remembers King fondly, those at the time did not, and UAPB was punished for having King on campus.

"We went 10 years without proper appropriations during that time, and so we suffered in the long run," Bennett said. "I think it was worth it, making history was worth it."

While Bennett will tell you this is a hidden history, it shouldn't be. 

UAPB may have been the only public institution that King spoke at in Arkansas, but his message has carried across the state.

"It lets them know that this has been an institution that really looked at making a difference in the lives of young people," Bennett said. "And not being afraid to do the thing that's right."

The University Museum and Cultural Center is located in Childress Hall on the UAPB campus. They're open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

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