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Oslo: Where King became a Laureate

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An exhibit at the Nobel Peace Center draws on once secret documents to explain how King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. Credit: Johannes Granseth/Nobel Peace Center

The film Selma opens with Martin Luther King Jr. donning a tuxedo and tails. The year is 1964 and he's in Oslo, Norway, to accept the Nobel Peace Prize. The enormous honor brought international affirmation to the decade-long battle King had been waging against segregation.

Back home, it also reminded U.S. leaders and the public that the world was paying attention to the country's struggle with racial violence and injustice, including the deadly bombing of Birmingham's Sixteenth Street Baptist Church the previous year. It gave King and the movement heightened stature as it pressed forward.

Recently, the Prize has again been in the news as King family members have bickered over the ownership of the medal awarded in Oslo.

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The Center's located on Oslo's waterfront. Credit: VisitOSLO/Nancy Bundt.

At the same time, the Nobel Peace Center in the Norwegian capital is revisiting the historic honor in a special exhibit, honoring the 50th anniversary of the award presentation. The display, partially underwritten by the U.S. Embassy in Norway, reveals previously confidential documents about the process that led to King's honor. Visitors can see papers about the selection, a video of his acceptance speech and a wide-ranging Norwegian television interview he gave when he visited Oslo for the ceremony.

A similar exhibit is on temporary display in Atlanta at the King Historic Site.

While you're visiting, take time to listen to King's acceptance speech. You can also click on it below, or read it here.

The Peace Prize was established by Albert Nobel, the inventor of dynamite. In his will, he said he intended to honor the person or organization that had done "the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace." The Oslo Peace Center does the enormous topic justice.

The small King exhibit takes up just a room in the harborfront center across the street from City Hall, where the prize is awarded every December. (The government building itself is worth a visit, with its murals celebrating the country's egalitarian heritage and spirit as it rebuilt after the Second World War.) The four other Nobel Prizes in the sciences and literature are awarded in Stockholm.

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King, accompanied by his wife, Coretta Scott, received the award in Oslo City Hall in December, 1964.

While the Peace Center alone doesn't justify a trip to Oslo, it's certainly worth a stop for Baltic cruise ship passengers docking in Norway, or for those in transit to other adventures like coastal cruises on the country's Hurtigruten line, or explorations of the stunningly beautiful interior.
The center features interactive displays on previous winners, including an extensive exhibit on Malala Yousafzai, a 2014 Laureate. The Pakistani girl was shot by the Taliban for advocating that girls should be educated. The school uniform she wore the day of the attack is displayed, the blood stains a heart-breaking testimony to her courage. Malala was 17 when she won the prize, making her the youngest Laureate, an honor once held by King. One would think the Reverend wouldn't mind ceding the honor.

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The school uniform Malala Yousafzai wore when she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in October 2012. Credit Lynsey Addario.

Visitors also find exhibits about other winners like Muhammad Yunus, who developed the Grameen bank, which gives micro loans to Third World women to start businesses; the Dalai Lama; and the international organization Doctors Without Borders.

The King room, found on the second floor, remains on display until Sept. 15, 2015. It offers an insider's view of the secretive Nobel committee process that led to his honor. Documents reveal who nominated King: the American Friends Association (Quakers), who had received the prize in 1945, and eight members of the Swedish Parliament.
Interestingly, the Quakers had tried to nominate King in 1963, but didn't meet the application deadline that year, which simply meant that it was rolled over to 1964. Who knows how history might have change if King had won a year earlier, and gained an international boost? But in 1964, there were 44 nominees and King was a shoe-in for the shortlist of 13 candidates, which included the UNICEF organization, and Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie.

The documents behind King's award had remained secret for 50 years. Newspapers from the era show that Norway heralded King's honor.

But King was a favorite from the start, according to a member of the selection committee. The organization was impressed that he was a non-government leader spearheading a mass movement that advocated non-violence. And the committee, which like the rest of the word, had been horrified by the attack on protesters in Birmingham in 1963, wanted to put a spotlight on America's racial turmoil.

Although the movement was facing challenge at home, King, it seems, was invigorated by the honor, and strikes an optimistic tone, starting out his address by describing the civil rights movement as a "creative battle" to end racial injustice.

"I come to Oslo as a trustee, inspired and with a renewed dedication," he says. "I have an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair."


The Nobel Peace Center. is open every day but Monday, 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. Admission is 90 NOK (about $13), students/seniors 60 NOK ($9); children under 16 free. It's an easy walk from the cruise ship terminal.

City Hall located just across the street, is open daily 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Oslo itself is worth a several-day visit for its cutting-edge art and design, Viking museum, featuring vessels more than 1,000 years old. English is widely, and usually impeccably, spoken.

Particularly moving is the Resistance Museum, which chronicles how Norway struggled under five years of Nazi occupation, and the men and women heroically fought to regain their country. The museum's located in the Akershus Fortress and if it looks familiar to younger visitors, it's because they recognize it from the Disney film, Frozen, which was set in Norway.

If you plan extensive city touring, check into the Oslo Pass, which offers admission to dozens of museums and free passage on public transit.

Find more into, see VisitOslo, or download its extremely helpful app, which works offline. You'll also find info at VisitNorway.


Norway and Scandinavia can be a pricey destination, so consider modest hotels like Comfort Hotel Xpress , where check in is automated and you have to pay extra for daily room cleaning, or an Air BnB.

But if you're seeking an over the top experience, check into The Thief, a new stylish hotel lined with contemporary art, but with a staff free of pretension and attitude.


And speaking of saving money, before you spend several hundred dollars on a Norwegian sweater, visit the UFF resale store, where you'll find dozens for under $50. The proceeds benefit an international people-to-people charity, which runs programs in dozens of countries. Dr. King, you can be assured, would approve.