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How Seeing Rev. King Speak In Chicago Changed Hillary Clinton's Life

By DNAinfo Staff | July 28, 2016 7:05am | Updated on November 8, 2016 6:38pm
 A teenage Hillary Rodham went to see the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at Chicago's Orchestra Hall in 1962.
A teenage Hillary Rodham went to see the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at Chicago's Orchestra Hall in 1962.
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Library of Congress

Editor's note: This story was originally published July 28, 2016.

DOWNTOWN — As the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stood on stage at Orchestra Hall in April of 1962, he described how, through science and technology, "we have made this world a neighborhood." But, because of racism, not "a brotherhood."

In the audience was a teenage Hillary Rodham, arriving to see the civil rights leader speak with her church group from suburban Park Ridge.

Hearing that King sermon, "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution," would mark a powerful moment for her, Clinton would later recall.

On Thursday, the Chicago-born Clinton will accept the Democratic nomination for president and will likely refer to the racial divide that still affects the country today. Part of the formation of her views on race, she has said, was developed on that Sunday at Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave.

King was a frequent visitor to Chicago, appearing on behalf of the nondenominational Sunday Evening Club, though he was not necessarily a beloved figure. Some adults in Park Ridge, Clinton once said, thought he was a "rabble rouser" and perhaps a communist.

Clinton's youth minister, the Rev. Don Jones, tried to expose teens to a changing nation. He brought Clinton along with other church club members to see King at Orchestra Hall.

"I was excited but unsure of what to expect," she wrote in her memoir "Hard Choices."

"When we got to Orchestra Hall and Dr. King began to speak, I was transfixed," Clinton wrote. "He challenged all of us that evening to stay engaged in the cause of justice and not to slumber while the world changed around us." 

Afterward, she stood in line to shake King's hand, she said, and "his grace and piercing moral clarity left a lasting impression on me."

"Until then I had been dimly aware of the social revolution occurring in our country, but Dr. King's words illuminated the struggle taking place and challenged our indifference."

In 1997, she returned to Orchestra Hall as part of a birthday celebration. Mayor Richard M. Daley had proclaimed it Hillary Rodham Clinton Day.

Speaking at a Washington, D.C., church in September, she recalled that day she came to Michigan Avenue to see King.

Her Park Ridge church "really opened my eyes, my mind, and my heart — especially my youth minister, who forced us out of our comfort zone, who made us have to really live in what John Wesley called 'his parish,' meaning the world, in ways that were a little bit discomforting, to be fair."

Jones "was a youth minister who said, 'No, you can’t just be sitting satisfied in your own church in a suburb of Chicago that was all white. We’re going into the inner city of Chicago. We’re going to go into church basements and have fellowship with youth from African-American churches and Hispanic churches. We’re going to sit, and we’re going to talk about our lives.' And we did," she said.

She said she has read “Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution" many times since, "trying to absorb even more than the first impression that I felt so strongly. I left that hall a different person, thanks to my church."

RELATED: Read a version of King's sermon "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution."

RELATED: Why Hillary's Dad Told Her a Big, Bad Wolf Lived in the Chicago River. 



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