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Long Before He Started Acting, Samuel L. Jackson Took Part In A Hostage Situation That Included MLK's Dad

Updated August 26, 2020 12.1k views13 items

Over the course of a career that has seen him become the highest-grossing actor of all-time and take part in such franchises as Jurassic Park, Star Wars, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Samuel L. Jackson has developed a well-earned reputation for portraying a tough guy on screen. What few realize, however, is just how much Jackson’s art resembles the events of his own life - most notably, the time he held the board of Morehouse College hostage to protest for his educational rights.

Many celebrities have gotten themselves kicked out of college over the decades, but none have done so in quite the same righteous manner as Jackson. Though the actions of Jackson and his fellow activists no doubt came down on the right side of history, the entire incident has taken on an air of infamy because of the identity of one hostage in particular - Martin Luther King Sr.

  • When Their Voices Were Not Heard, Jackson And The Others Locked The Morehouse Board Inside Their Meeting Room In Protest

    Sam Jackson and his fellow student activists petitioned to meet with the Morehouse College board to air their grievances, but they were rebuffed as the board welcomed no student involvement at the time. Jackson and a group of students showed up at a board meeting to demand that their voices be heard. 

    When they were denied access, they decided to lock the board members inside and refuse to let them leave. As Jackson told it to Andy Lewis of The Hollywood Reporter in 2018: 

    We actually petitioned the Morehouse board in 1969 to meet with them, but the Black people who were around them said, "No way, you can't come in here. You can't talk to them." Somebody said, "Well, let's lock the door and keep them in there," because we had read about the lock-ins on other campuses. They had these chains on the walkways to keep us off the grass, and we used those. Our understanding was that, once we locked them in, we were in violation of a whole bunch of laws.

  • Lock-Ins Were A Form Of Nonviolent 'Hostage Taking' Popular At The Time

    As Samuel L. Jackson himself noted, the lock-in at Morehouse College was inspired by other lock-in protests from other student movements around the country - with the most prominent case being the actions taken by the Black Student Union at Ohio State shortly after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. 

    This sort of direct involvement was exactly the sort of thing Jackson was looking for when he said that “change was going to take something different – not sit-ins, not peaceful coexistence.” Lock-ins were about as obstructive as one could be in the name of protest while still maintaining the nonviolent principles of Doctor Reverend King, and it didn’t take long for Jackson and his friends to draw a crowd. 

  • Photo: White House Staff Photographer / National Archives / Unrestricted

    One Of Those Board Members Was Martin Luther King Sr.

    While Samuel L. Jackson and several other students protested outside their meeting room, the Morehouse College board sat inside, locked in and unable to leave. One of those board members happened to be Martin Luther King Sr.

    King Sr. was one of the few Black members of the Morehouse board - the lack of which was one of the things Jackson and his compatriots were protesting about in the first place. His status as the father of the father of the Civil Rights Movement afforded him no special treatment - King Sr. remained locked inside the boardroom alongside his fellow members as the lock-in wore on. 

  • The Stand-Off Lasted For A Day And A Half

    All told, “the whole thing lasted a day and a half” according to Samuel L. Jackson. During that time, he and the other protestors engaged in frequent negotiations with both the board members inside and other school administrators - which means that they succeeded in making their voices heard, regardless of one’s opinions on their actions.

    The student activists stood guard at the doors, refusing to budge until their demands were met - with one notable exception.