Long before he pioneered the Civil Rights Movement or won the Nobel Peace Prize, Martin Luther King Jr. spent three of his formative years as a Delaware County resident.
Following his graduation in 1948 from Atlanta’s Morehouse College, where he earned a degree in sociology, King arrived at the Crozer Theological Seminary in Upland as one of only 11 African-American students.
According to William Peters, a journalist who examined race relations in the U.S., King was determined not to perpetuate any racial stereotypes. King said of his early experience at Crozer that ‘‘if I were a minute late to class, I was almost morbidly conscious of it and sure that everyone noticed it.’’ He recalled being ‘‘grimly serious for a time. I had a tendency to overdress, to keep my room spotless, my shoes perfectly shined, and my clothes immaculately pressed.”
King gradually became more comfortable, and developed meaningful relationships with classmates and professors. He was eventually elected class president, and graduated with a Bachelor of Divinity in 1951 as the valedictorian.
Those three years at Crozer proved critical in the development of King’s thinking.
An arrangement with the University of Pennsylvania enabled him to take philosophy courses. Drawing from the writings of Walter Rauschenbusch on the Social Gospel, a Protestant movement that applied Christian ethics to social problems, King decided that theology could be used as a basis to alleviate “social evil.”
He began to take pacifism more seriously after hearing Dr. Mordecai Johnson, the president of Howard University, speak about Mahatma Gandhi at Philadelphia’s Fellowship House, an interfaith and interracial community center with Quaker roots. Johnson had just returned from India, and was lecturing about Gandhi’s nonviolent protests.
King was captivated.
“His message was so profound and electrifying that I left the meeting and bought a half-dozen books on Gandhi’s life and works,” King wrote in Stride Toward Freedom, his memoir of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. “As I read, I became deeply fascinated by his campaigns of nonviolent resistance.”
Upon his departure from Delaware County, King earned his Ph.D. in systematic theology from Boston University. Soon after, he embarked on a journey that is now a part of the fabric of American history.
As for the Crozer Theological Seminary, the school moved to Rochester, N.Y., in 1970 in a merger that formed the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School.