SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — When Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited Sioux Falls in January of 1961 to speak to the community, he was not allowed to use the same entrance as the white citizens who came to hear him speak. Instead, Dr. King was led to a back entrance and taken through the butler’s pantry where he was allowed to enter the stage.

Dr. King was invited to Sioux Falls to speak at the Knife & Fork Club as well as a Black church in downtown Sioux Falls. While recordings of his speeches at those locations don’t exist, Dr. King also stopped at KELOLAND studios where he was interviewed by Doug Hill.

Julian Beaudion, Interim Director of the South Dakota African American History Museum, said Dr. King’s brief visit to Sioux Falls left him feeling “unwelcome” in the community.

Bust of Martin Luther King Jr. at the African American History Museum at the Washington Pavilion.

“He couldn’t stay at any hotels as well because of segregation at the time,” Beaudion told KELOLAND News on Monday. “Sioux Falls was heavily segregated and didn’t allow any black people in the hotels.”

Instead, Dr. King stayed at a parsonage of Saint John’s Baptist Church, a Black church in downtown Sioux Falls where he also spoke during his visit.

While the Jim Crow laws of the South were not in place in the Midwest, Beaudion says “…the Civil Rights struggles that Jim Crow produced, definitely made its way up north and into the Midwest as well.” Beaudion adds that in his time in South Dakota, Dr. King did feel loved and welcomed by the Black community of Sioux Falls and spent part of his visit meeting several families in the community.

Dr. King’s brief visit to South Dakota was not well-known to most people until recent years, thanks in part to the work of the African American History Museum in partnership with the Washington Pavilion and the City of Sioux Falls. The museum, which is on the first floor of the Washington Pavilion, highlights several notable Black South Dakotans and the impact they had on the state. It also includes an exhibit dedicated to Dr. King’s 1961 visit.

Anyone entering into the auditoriums at the Washington Pavilion must pass through the museum.

“For us, just being present gives us an opportunity to reach an audience that we really have never been able to reach before,” Beaudion said.

Beaudion says the relationship the museum has with the Washington Pavilion, the City of Sioux Falls, and more recently the Sioux Falls School District, is bringing awareness and education to the community.

Martin Luther King Jr. display at the African American History Museum at the Washington Pavilion.

Today, a sculpture stands at Van Eps Park in Sioux Falls, near to where Dr. King visited over 60 years ago. Porter Williams of Sioux Falls is the artist behind the sculpture and several of the busts featured in the African American History Museum.

As the museum continues to work to uncover more about Dr. King’s visit, Beaudion says they are following the lead of Dr. King’s family and advocating for voting rights legislation. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act passed last week in the House of Representatives but has stalled in the Senate. The family of MLK has been vocally advocating for the passage of the bill to honor their father’s legacy.

In Sioux Falls, Beaudion says they are focusing on education and allyship by working with local organizations such as South Dakotans Against Racism, Establishing Sustainable Connections and South Dakota Voices for Peace.

“Before you can really go out and help a community, you must really understand the community,” Beaudion says.