After Dow Kirkpatrick was appointed senior pastor of First Church in 1962, one of his first acts was to invite his former colleague from Atlanta, Martin Luther King, Jr., to preach at his new church. After months of negotiation to find a date in King’s busy schedule, on May 19, 1963, he addressed an overflow crowd.  

Just a month before his First Church visit, King had gone to jail in the middle of the battle to desegregate Birmingham. While in solitary confinement, he wrote his famed “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in the margins of a newspaper and on scraps of toilet paper. The following days brought pressure on city administrators, then firehoses and dogs set upon peaceful protestors, then a Ku Klux Klan rally and bombs exploded in the black community. All of this set the context for King’s visit to Evanston on May 19.  

In recognition of the one-hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, King spoke to around 3,000 people in two worship services. An overflow crowd spilled into Tittle Chapel during the second service. In his sermon—delivered without notes—King examined “the dimensions of the complete life,” urging his listeners to recognize the brotherhood they shared with all of humankind.