Over the past year, I have published several posts on JI about my research on how the civil rights movement was discussed in BYU’s student newspaper, the Daily Universe, during the 1950s and 1960s. I have recently begun studying a new aspect of this research that has proved particularly interesting and enlightening – how civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was talked about in the pages of the Daily Universe in the latter part of the 1960s and then again in the 1980s as the national discussion on establishing a federal holiday in honor of King came to Utah. In the next few posts on JI, I will analyze how students discussed King’s role as a civil rights leader in 1968, 1969, and the 1980s.
(When discussing King, I think that it is important to remember that King was a major leader of civil rights, but he was not the only leader. In the US, we often think of the civil rights movement as a cohesive program in which millions of people worked together towards the exact same goals. I am ashamed to admit that it was not until college that I learned that there were many different groups (SCLC, SNCC, Black Muslims, Black Panthers, etc.) who had different perspectives on how to gain greater equality in the United States. I’ve included discussion on many groups and civil rights philosophy in my larger research project, but it is interesting to focus on such a prominent figure of King and analyze from a historical perspective was written about him in the recent past).
As may be expected from the influence of the civil rights movement in American history, news articles in the Daily Universe consistently discussed the civil rights movement and its leaders. On the day before King’s murder, the civil rights news reached the local stage as Georgia state legislator Julian Bond spoke in Provo on the motives behind enduring African-American actions towards equality. Bond was an original member and leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and his comments were based in his views on what the motivations were for black men and women engaged in civil rights.  The Daily Universe published an article about Bond’s speech on the front page of the 4 April 1968 newspaper.
While news of Julian Bond’s visit to Utah was recorded on the paper’s title page, there is no way to know whether or not the Daily Universe would have published news of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death as front-page news.  Because the school went on spring break on 5 April 1968 – the day that most newspapers first reported on King’s assassination – there was no Daily Universe published on the fifth or for several days afterwards. When the newspaper returned from hiatus on 10 April, the only mention of King’s death in the paper was a follow-up editorial based on an editorial published on the 4 April. In that first editorial, the anonymous author had stated that American soldiers killed in Vietnam made “the ultimate sacrifice.”  The editorial on the 10 April built upon this rhetoric and stated that King had made the ultimate sacrifice, and that it was “ironical” that “a man who preached non-violence died so violently.”  The author then called upon students to recognize the important nature of King’s murder, as they lived in a country “where people were murdered for their beliefs” and yet students might read the paper and complain about the weather during their vacation.  The editorial was both an empathetic discussion of King’s murder and a call for students to avoid complacency.
For one student, however, the editorial did not compensate for the lack of news articles on King’s death. On 16 April, student Barbara McDaniel stated her dismay at the newspaper’s second-page discussion of King’s death solely in a letter to the editor. She accused BYU’s administration of feeling as though a crisis had been averted, as they did not have to react to King’s death on campus. She also stated that the prejudice she perceived as existing at BYU meant that people at BYU were “co-conspirators with the assassin of Martin Luther King.”  Using civil rights rhetoric from King himself, McDaniel called upon fellow students to take accountability in civil rights inequalities and shared her own “dream” that “freedom will ring from ‘Y’ mountain.” 
McDaniel’s strongly worded criticism and call to action initiated further discussion on the topic of King’s death in the following days. In an editor’s note following McDaniel’s first letter, the Daily Universe’s editor tried to quell McDaniel’s accusations by stating that the newspaper had not published articles on King because after spring break, the story of his death was already “dead news” (an insensitive comment that seems to be more of an unfortunate word choice than purposeful degradation).  In response, McDaniel wrote again about the offense she took at the Daily Universe’s reporting (or lack of it) on King’s assassination. She cited other newspapers that published news of the event on the front page for several days, and accused the university of practicing isolationism in its unwillingness to acknowledge “an important event affecting the entire world” such as King’s death.  Of most interest, however, was McDaniel’s conclusion to her letter. She expressed indignation with the use of the term “dead news,” stating instead that “[a] great man’s death and a tribune to his life is never ‘dead news’ as we testify to every Sunday.”  For McDaniel, King’s death was a type of ultimate Christian sacrifice that was to be kept in memory and personal worship.
Viewing King as a Messianic figure would now be (and often is) accepted and discussed by members of the LDS Church, but such was not the case in 1968. While McDaniel’s personal interpretation of her religious beliefs led her to compare King and Christ, the editor opposed such a comparison. In an editor’s note following McDaniel’s letter, the editor simply said, “Your comparison is in poor taste.”  As a fellow member of the LDS Church, the editor saw any comparison of King’s sacrifice to Christ as blasphemous. Two days later, another BYU student expressed his own discontent with McDaniel’s expressed opinions on King. He employed another rhetoric often used in the newspaper to support the arguments of Southern students – that King was not someone to be admired, but instead an individual who had frequently disobeyed laws, which went against the LDS principle of “obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” 
As seen from the discussion of King’s death in the Daily Universe in 1968, BYU students often expressed their attitudes towards civil rights in a manner that evoked LDS teachings and principles. However, students varied greatly in how they viewed LDS teachings in relation to race relations and equality. These teachings affected the way that students processed the civil rights movement, but students often considered these racial teachings in terms of their own personal and regional paradigms. In a time when the meaning of race was frequently discussed and debated, established LDS teachings on race and the priesthood remained recognizable ideas, but it seems that the interpretations of what that meant in terms of secular and religious interaction differed from student to student.
 Dave Fitzpatrick, “Julian Bond Speaks Out For ‘Change’,” Daily Universe, 4 April 1968.
 By this point, major civil rights events were mainly seen as front-page material, and had been since the middle part of the decade, so it can be assumed that King’s murder would have been reported on the front page.
 Daily Universe, “The ‘What-Kind-Of’ Sacrifice,” 4 April 1968.
 Daily Universe, “The Irony Of It All,” 10 April 1968.
 Barbara J. McDaniel, Letter to the Editor, Daily Universe, 16 April 1968.
 Daily Universe, “Editor’s Note,” 16 April 1968.
 Barbara J. McDaniel, Letter to the Editor, Daily Universe, 24 April 1968.
 Daily Universe, “Editor’s Note,” 24 April 1968.
 Joseph Smith, “Twelfth Article of Faith,” 1842.