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Dr. Freeman Reflects on His Relationship with MLK

Thomas F. Freeman

Sound | 1973-74, interview recorded 2012

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  •  Dr. Freeman describes reuniting with Dr. King, a former student, in a restaurant.  
  •  Dr. Freeman on his brother meeting Dr. King in an airport in Oslo, Norway.  
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  •  Strangely enough, I didn't even know that I was teaching Martin Luther King.  
  •  About ten or fifteen years afterward, I was at a restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia,  
  •  and Martin came in with his entourage and sat down to eat.  
  •  And I said to my student, "Look, that's Martin Luther King!" (whispering).  
  •  And I'm so pleased I can tell them that's Martin Luther King.  
  •  Before dinner was over, he came over to our table, stuck out his hand,  
  •  and said, "Dr. Freeman, you don't remember me, but I remember you.  
  •  You taught me . . ." Then he described the course that I taught,  
  •  and I looked at him and said, "I did?!"  
  •  And from then on, there was an association so that he knew who I was,  
  •  I knew who he was, and when we had the,  
  •  at the time we used to have baccalaureate and commencement addresses, we had them together.  
  •  I did the baccalaureate and he did the commencement,  
  •  and before making this presentation,  
  •  he acknowledged the fact that I had had influence over him. 
  •  M- That was the commencement address here? 
  •  TFF- Yea, not at TSU, at Erma Hughes College.  
  •  Now, subsequent to that, my brother 
  •  was in Oslo at the time that Martin received the Nobel Peace Prize,  
  •  and he saw him at the airport and started to go up to him and thought,  
  •  "No, he doesn't know me, I'm not going to bother trying to speak to him."  
  •  Then he said something occurred to him, he might not get another chance to do that.  
  •  So he thought he would go ahead and speak to him.  
  •  So he stuck out his hand and said to Martin, "You don't know me--"  
  •  And Martin stopped him and said, "Yes sir I do. You are Tom's brother."  
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This video, produced by TAMI, is composed of excerpts from an informal interview with Dr. Freeman voiced over a home movie from his film collection. Over scenes of the campuses of the University of Georgia and Malcom X College, Dr. Freeman describes how he met Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta in the 1960s and learned he had both taught and influenced the civil rights leader in his younger days. The interview was conducted by TAMI’s Madeline Fendley on September 10, 2012, at Dr. Freeman’s office at TSU.
Dr. Thomas F. Freeman was born in 1919 in Richmond, Virginia, where he also spent his childhood and attended college. Freeman left Virginia temporarily to serve a nine month contract at Houston's Texas Southern University in 1949. Many decades later, Dr. Freeman is still a professor and debate coach at TSU, on campus six days a week, and has helped multiple generations of young Texan African-American students find their voice and rise to new heights of scholarly achievement. A pillar of the Houston community, Dr. Freeman also has ministered at Mt. Horem Baptist Church for more than 65 years, still delivering sermons every Sunday; taught Religious Studies at Rice University for 20 years; helped found Houston's Model Cities program; founded and served as Dean of TSU's Weekend College; was the Founding Dean of TSU's Honors College; and over the course of his teaching career, taught and influenced many prominent African-Americans leaders, including Otis King, Barbara Jordan, and Martin Luther King, Jr.