This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Dennis Kemp didn’t know who was going to climb out of the limousine.
Kemp was a 9th grader at Barratt Junior High School in October 1967 when the school’s vice principal asked him and other members of the stage crew to greet a guest arriving for a special assembly.
Kemp, who played on the school’s basketball team, thought the mystery celebrity might be the Philadelphia 76ers behemoth Wilt Chamberlain.
Then the car door swung open, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stepped out onto South 16th Street.
“It was amazing,” Kemp said. “I’ll never forget it.”
King was in town for a star-studded rally at the Spectrum, the since-demolished sports arena that King would describe that day as a “new, impressive structure.” Thanks to a connection made by legendary Philly DJ Georgie Woods (“the guy with the goods”), King stopped first at Barratt, which has since been shuttered.
He spoke for just 20 minutes, riveting the mostly black student body with a speech that focused on uplift, racial pride, and putting the onus on them to make better lives.
“I wanna ask you a question,” King began. “And that is: What is in your life’s blueprint?”