A Simpler Time

Burt Ross with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Photo courtesy Burt Ross

By Burt Ross

   In January 1965, just a few months after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize and a few months before the march on Selma, he came to Harvard to speak, and as President of the Harvard-Radcliffe Young Democratic Club, I was honored to host him and to spend part of the day with him. He was arguably the most famous person in the world, and yet he flew up from New York for the modest speaking fee of $2,000. The check was made out not to him, but to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

   In retrospect, what strikes me most about his visit is how he traveled alone and without any semblance of protection. It was a simpler and safer time then. Everybody wasn’t packing semi-automatic weapons, and although President Kennedy had been assassinated, gun violence was nothing compared to what it is today.

    Boston was a racist town for a Northern city, but Dr. King felt safer there, where he had gone to college than when he traveled in the South.

    I picked up Dr. King at Boston’s Logan Airport. He came alone without any entourage whatsoever. I drove him in my little Chevy Monza to Cambridge and, later that afternoon, picked him up in Boston, where once again, he was totally alone. After dinner that night, he took a nap in my bed, and then I drove him to speak to around 1,000 students. No auditorium at Harvard in those days could accommodate such a large gathering, so we held the event at the local high school called Rindge Tech, named after Cambridge’s benefactor, Frederick Rindge, the same Rindge who became the King of Malibu.

   After he spoke, I drove Dr. King to the train station, where he, once again alone, took a train back to New York City. Not once during the day did I witness protection of any kind. Only three years and a few months later, he was shot dead at a motel in Memphis. He was 39 years old.