As he did during all four of Martin Luther King’s visits to Wesleyan, Professor John Maguire opened his house at 44 Home Avenue for people to meet the Reverend. Between phone calls, the Reverend Dr. King sat and talked with students, faculty and community activists, offering advice and encouragement.
King’s connection to Wesleyan was through Maguire, professor of religion. As an 18-year-old student at Washington and Lee in Virginia, Maguire had by chance met and become a close friend of the 21-year-old Martin Luther King Jr. King had already graduated from Morehouse College and was studying at Crozer Theological Seminary in Upland, Pa. In May 1961, John Maguire and his department chair, David Swift, joined the Freedom Rides and were jailed briefly in Montgomery, Ala. When they were released, Maguire and Swift met with King.
On Sunday, Jan. 14, 1962, King arrived for his first visit to Wesleyan and preached to a packed chapel. He spent the night at the university guesthouse on High Street and was available the next day to the College of Social Studies’ students and faculty. Maguire arranged the visit to coincide with King’s 33rd birthday, which was celebrated that Monday at lunch.
In February of 1963, King preached at Yale’s Battell Chapel in the morning and then Maguire drove him to his house before he preached again that evening in the Wesleyan chapel. After the services, students crowded into a car to drive King to the airport.
The following year President Butterfield asked Maguire to see if King would be Wesleyan’s 1964 baccalaureate preacher and receive the university’s honorary doctorate. On the Monday before he was to arrive for the weekend ceremonies, King went to jail challenging segregation in St. Augustine, Fla. John Maguire called his friend and King’s chief aide, Andrew Young, and together they persuaded him to post bail and fly north. King arrived early Sunday morning and said he felt justified leaving jail because Mrs. Peabody, mother of the Massachusetts Governor Chubb Peabody, had gone to jail in St. Augustine, taking his place, as it were.
In 1966, two years before his death, King paid his last visit to Wesleyan, again to preach. The service, moved to McConaughy Hall to accommodate a larger audience, spilled out of the hall. Three students—many more had offered—met King at 5 a.m. to drive him to the airport. Throughout the day, those students were giddy about their conversation during the ride.
King was killed on Thursday, April 4, 1968, as Wesleyan’s Board was preparing to meet over the weekend. President Etherington subsequently asked that the meeting adjourn and move to the Chapel, where Maguire provided an informal eulogy. UPFRONT
—Elan Barnehama (Special thanks to John Maguire for his assistance)