Every American should know of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. But before MLK gave that celebrated speech, he expressed many of the ideas in it in other speeches, building and refining over time. One of those speeches was given here at the Oakland Auditorium on December 28, 1962, on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, which went into effect January 1, 1863 as the U.S. approached its third year of the Civil War.
“This note was a promise that all men, yes black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Less well known is that the MLK Day holiday has roots here in Oakland. At Oakland Tech, a group of students called The Apollos worked to make it a California state holiday, first celebrated in 1982. It didn’t become a national holiday until 1983.
It’s also worth noting that the theater portion of the Oakland Auditorium is named for Calvin Simmons. Simmons was a remarkable musician and became director of the Oakland Symphony in 1979 at age 28. He was only the second Black director of a major U.S. symphony. (Henry Lewis in New Jersey was first.) Sadly, Simmons died only 4 years later in a canoeing accident.
Finally, the Oakland Auditorium is where Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, announced his candidacy for mayor of Oakland in 1973. He came in second to incumbent John Reading. The Black Panther Party also held a Black Community Survival Conference there in 1972. Speakers included various members of the BPP, but also Congressman Ron Dellums and Rev. Earl Neil of St. Augustine’s Church.