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Remembering Dr. King’s Travels in the Caribbean

Remembering Dr. King’s Travels in the Caribbean
Jose Oquendo (Oquendo) via flickr

It’s funny, but before I sat down to write this, I had no idea that Martin Luther King ever visited the Caribbean. I’m just pushing 40, so obviously I wasn’t around when he would’ve had the chance, but you’d think that I would’ve heard or been taught something about this along the way, right?

I went to a good school in St. Croix, I paid attention, I got good grades, I have a deep love of history, I don’t have a crappy memory like Patrick; how could I not know anything about this?

As far as I can tell, Dr. King made at least two trips to the Caribbean. The second, a visit to Jamaica in 1965, is well documented in this insightful feature from the Gleaner. Check out this great line from Dr. King’s speech in Jamaica:

If it falls to our luck to be street-sweepers, sweep the streets like Raphael painted pictures, like Michaelangelo carved marble, like Shakespeare wrote poetry, and like Beethoven composed music. Sweep the streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth would have to pause and say ‘Here lived a great street sweeper.

If I heard my Dad paraphrase this quote once, I heard it a thousand times. It’s a great message of pride, encouragement and striving for the best, which seems fitting for an address delivered in Jamaica for reasons we talk about here.

The second of Dr. King’s trips to the Caribbean that I’ve heard about occurred three years prior to the Jamaica visit. This time, his destination was a bit more uncommon.

Tucked away in Puerto Rico’s mountainous southwest region, San Germán is the second oldest city in Puerto Rico and the third oldest in the entire United States. A world away from the hustle and bustle of cosmopolitan San Juan, San Germán is a quiet, peaceful town well off the beaten path of most vacationers to Puerto Rico.

The main attraction here for visitors is the Porta Coeli Church pictured above. Originally constructed in 1609, it is one of the oldest structures in the Western Hemisphere.

San Germán’s Historic District holds a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, and no wonder: there are more than 100 notable landmarks and places of interest like Porta Coeli for traveling history buffs to enjoy here.

I’m not sure if Dr. King got to take in any of the city’s historic sites. He was originally invited to speak at the Inter-American University in San Germán by Professor Robert Brank Fulton. A civil rights activist himself, Fulton had previously marched with King in Birmingham, Alabama.

I haven’t managed to find a great deal of information on the trip, but journalist Kal Wagenheim wrote last year in the Puerto Rico Daily Sun that CD recordings of Dr. King’s lectures in San Germán can be requested through Fulton’s kids. Click here for more info…

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