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Martin Luther King photo
Gathered at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Student Union are (left to right) Ronald Stevenson, Charles Henry, Helen Nestor and Harold Adler with Nestor's 1967 photo of Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking at Sproul Plaza. Noah Berger photo.

Martin Luther King's legacy lives on: historic Berkeley photo from 1967 will hang in Berkeley student union
17 May 2002

By Diane Ainsworth, Public Affairs


A historic photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking out against the Vietnam War on the steps of UC Berkeley's Sproul Hall 35 years ago, came home today to hang in the Berkeley student union named in his honor.

The new 24-by-36-inch black-and-white framed photograph, taken on May 17, 1967 by photographer Helen Nestor, will hang in the main stairwell of the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union leading up to Pauley Ballroom.

Martin Luther KIng
Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking on Sproul Plaza. Helen Nestor photo.

At a May 17, 2002 Convocation Day event, Nestor returned to the campus for an event in which Berkeley's incoming student body president Jesse Gabriel accepted the gift of the photograph.

"It was a warm and special feeling to photograph him," said Nestor, who has polio and was allowed to photograph Dr. King at closer range than other photographers because of her physical disability. "The students were very charged up and very much with Dr. King. It was a special time."

During King's 1967 speech on the steps of Sproul Hall, the civil rights leader told students: "You, in a real sense, have been the conscience of the academic community and our nation." A gold plaque with King's name and that quote will be hung below the photograph.

"We are very honored to have this photograph," said Gabriel, a junior economics major, who accepted the gift on behalf of the UC Associated Students.

Berkeley's student union did not become the Martin Luther King, Jr. Student Union until February 1985, more than 17 years after King's anti-Vietnam War speech at Berkeley. Ronald Stevenson, who was then a Berkeley undergraduate majoring in ethnic studies with an emphasis on civil rights, had proposed the idea. Stevenson, now director of a Berkeley mentoring program called Break the Cycle, presented his idea to then-Chancellor Ira Michael Heyman and professor Charles Henry, who is currently chair of African American Studies.

"It took two years of work to get the name change accomplished," Stevenson said. "The chancellor said he'd push it through with the regents if I would push it through with the students."

Previously, the only image of King in the student union was a rendering on cardboard tacked to a bulletin board. When Free Speech Movement Café curator Harold Adler saw this, he knew something needed to be done.

Adler, co-curator of a book and exhibit about the social protest movements in the '60s and '70s, had the one and only copy of Nestor's photograph. He showed it to Henry, who arranged to have the African-American Studies department buy a copy to present to students.

"One of the many wonderful things King said was that the university [UC Berkeley] was a great world university, and that many people came for that reason, so this was a basis for free speech," said Adler. "Our legacy of the 1960s is what we have left, what remains….so these photographs, of King, of all of the other activists of the '60s and '70s, are so important."