Martin Luther King’s Impact in Hawaii

Retired Judge Simeon Acoba Jr.

by Jim Bea Sampaga

On Monday Jan. 18, the nation celebrated the life and legacy of civil-rights activist Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

King peacefully and nonviolently protested against racial discrimination and it garnered national attention in 1955. In 1963, he gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in front of hundreds and thousands of people at the peaceful March on Washington, D.C.

In 1964, 35-year-old King was awarded the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize. Earlier that same year, he visited the University of Hawaii at Manoa to deliver a speech on “Progress Toward Desegregration” to students, faculty, staff and the community during the University’s Civil Rights Week.

According to a University of Hawaii News article, “about 10,000 listeners jammed the seats in the outdoor amphitheater, filling the grass in the center and spilling over on to the lawn outside the wall.

“Moral means to achieve moral ends,” King said during his speech at UH Manoa.

Engaging The Local Community
“It was Associated Students of the University of Hawaii at Manoa (ASUH) senator Simeon Acoba Jr. who initiated the historic event,” writes Cassie Ordonio in a Ka Leo article, UH Manoa’s student publication.

A former Hawaii Supreme Court judge, Acoba lead the student committee during the Civil Rights Movement. They organized UH Manoa’s “Civil Rights Week” event that brought four speakers to Hawaii — James Farmer, John Ali, William Simmons and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

With the success of “Civil Rights Week,” then 20-year-old Acoba, who majored in political science, received the first annual Liberty Bell Award from the Hawaii State Bar Association.

Acoba told Ordonio that he used to post letters around UH with text saying, “You should be supporting these efforts, not turning them down.”

In the UH News article, Acoba recalled: “We were gratified that the speakers’ impact expanded beyond campus, as many public officials, the editors of the two major newspapers, labor unions, the Honolulu Chamber of Commerce, churches and many others were engaged.”

Black Lives Matter
Police brutality on Black Americans sparked the Black Live Matter movement last year.

Dubbed BLM, the movement demands accountability for the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many Black Americans that lost their lives to police brutality.

Acoba told Ka Leo that “the current events are disappointing.”

“It’s somewhat disappointing that 50 years later, with the Black Lives Matter movement,” Acoba told Ka Leo. “This whole effort to bring equal treatment still needs to be worked on in the United States.”


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