In 1965, as a part of the Festival of Grace, celebrating the 1964 completion and consecration of Grace Cathedral, Bishop James Pike invited Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to visit and preach at Grace Cathedral. Dr. King accepted and the date was set; March 28th, the fourth Sunday of Lent. Crowds already surged around the Cathedral by early morning, and by 10 a.m. the building was packed. Grace Cathedral had never before seen so many people, most of them African-American. Crowds filled the front stairs, plaza, Cathedral House, and parking lot. Approximately 5,000 people were present, and it was not until the memorial service following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that a crowd of similar size gathered at the cathedral. Dr. King's arrival was secret; he was hustled in through a rear door, surrounded by bodyguards.
Listen to an edited audio version of the sermon.
Watch a video of the sermon.
Please note that it is in two parts. Also the sermon was originally recorded on film, which had to be changed several times during Dr. King’s address. Therefore, there is loss of audio quality in a few places and at the very end of the sermon the final words are inaudible.
The Very Reverend C. Julian Bartlett, then Dean of Grace Cathedral, recalled the visit in a memorable 1986 interview with this writer (parenthetical words are added for clarity):
"We followed our Lenten tradition then of a Litany sung in procession, winding through all the aisles of the Cathedral; down the (north) aisle, up the center, down the south aisle, back up the center, into the great choir, all that exposure to a crowd pressing in who had to separate to let the procession through. The crowd was so enormous that the fire marshal and his henchmen, who were here on duty early, closed the doors of the cathedral, I think before 10:30 a.m. About 20 minutes after that, they closed the doors (permanently) and said you can't let any more people in the cathedral. They were jammed out on the plaza, (a) total sea of faces out there, down the steps onto the sidewalk, people back to California Street. Well, the choir in procession, and the clergy, had to pick their way through this crowd inside singing the Litany. And here King and I were bringing up the rear, and I confess that how easy it would have been for somebody to jump out of that crowd and plunge a knife into King... and Bartlett(!), and I had anxieties going around that procession that close to so many people. But nothing unhappy happened.
We got into the great choir and (it) got time for the sermon, and King was escorted to the pulpit. The police force insisted on having a plainclothesman down on the pavement in front of the pulpit, where he could survey at closer range anybody within close distance of King. And another one behind him, in the great quire behind King. King preached a marvelous sermon. He was a great orator, and used his voice magnificently. In the middle of this sermon, I happened to look up - out of just sort of ecstasy, just looking up and thinking how marvelous this whole thing was - and what should I see on the catwalk (visible above the unfinished vaulting) on the top of the Cathedral but a body moving around up there! My heart went into my throat, and I said, "My God, somebody could be up there with a pistol!" So I called Charles Agneau the verger over, and I said, "Get up to the catwalk fast and see who that is moving up there!" He came back down in a few minutes, and he said, "Dean, it was a young man from the seminary in Berkeley taking (camera) shots, and I told him he better get off the catwalk in a hurry before the cops got him, instead of something else!" So that was an anxious moment.
It came time for the offering to be taken. Of course, our ushers were augmented by many extra volunteers for this enormous crowd. I'm estimating conservatively that there had to be between 3,500 and 4,000 people in the cathedral. Outside, this mob of people, behaving very well, incidentally, but still.... The ushers were taking up the offering inside and the crowd outside. Incidentally, we had speakers rigged so the outside could hear what was going on, and they heard that the offering was being taken and began to shout, "Where are the offering takers for out here? Send us the offering takers!" So, of course, our ushers got out there as soon as they could with baskets and took up an offering all the way through that crowd. And it's a testimony to the spirit of the people; they just wanted to be a part, even though they couldn't get into the building. It's a pity that, for security's sake, King had to be sort of spirited out of the cathedral the same way he came in. The police did a marvelous job of security for him, and, fortunately, a tragedy did not happen here such as happened in Memphis later. Well, that was an exciting day for Grace Cathedral and the whole city."
The writer, Michael Lampen, Cathedral Archivist, was a chorister in the cathedral choir and remembers the huge crowd, the bodyguards, and the deep, sonorous tones of Dr. King's voice.
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