From the Fulton Sun: Remembering Gorbachev's Visit to Westminster 


Today Marks 20th Anniversary of Gorbachev’s Speech (Fulton Sun)
By Don Norfleet

Reprinted with permission from the Fulton Sun .

Mikhail and Raisa GorbachevTwenty years ago today an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people jammed an area around Westminster College to listen to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev deliver an address that many now interpret as the end of the Cold War.

Historians credit a speech made at Westminster College in Fulton in 1948 by British Prime Minster Winston Churchill as the start of the Cold War when he used the “Iron Curtain” term to describe Soviet expansionism and the threat of communist imperialism.

Forty-six years later Gorbachev came to Fulton for an address that formally lifted the Iron Curtain.
By the time Gorbachev came to the United States for the speech, the Soviet Union already had collapsed, having disintegrated into 15 separate countries four months earlier.

In August of 1991 a group of hard-line Soviet communists organized a coup d’etat. They kidnapped Gorbachev, and on Aug. 19, 1991, announced that Gorbachev was ill and would no longer be able to govern. Protests erupted throughout the Soviet Union and communist bosses could not persuade the military to put down the rebellion.

After three days, the communist organizers surrendered. Gorbachev resigned as president on Dec. 25, 1991, and by January of 1992 the Soviet Union ceased to exist. All of the separate nations in the Soviet Union formed their own governments, including Russia.

By the time Gorbachev came to Fulton on May 6, 1992, he had been out of office for more than four months. But to many Americans he was still the symbol of the Cold War and they wanted to hear what he had to say.

During his address in Fulton, Gorbachev referred to the significance of his appearance.
“Forty-six years ago Winston Churchill spoke in Fulton and in my country this speech was singled out as the formal declaration of the Cold War,” Gorbachev said.

Two Fulton residents who helped make arrangements for Gorbachev’s appearance have vivid memories of the event.

Nancy Lewis, executive director of the Kingdom of Callaway Chamber of Commerce, said her biggest task at the chamber was to answer all of the phone calls she received during the event.
“I was fortunate that I also witnessed the event. I would like to thank Westminster College for hosting this and many other important events,” Lewis said.

She recalls Fulton High School was asked to send four students to be interviewed by the news media for their reaction Gorbachev’s visit.

“Our youngest daughter Carrie happened to be one of the four students,” Lewis said.
She said the visit helped interest her daughter in her chosen career. She now is the assistant director of international admissions at Drake University.

“Fulton is so fortunate. There aren’t many young people who have the opportunity to see international personalities coming to Fulton such as Gorbachev, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Lech Walesa in person,” Lewis said. “It provides  a human face to history and geography.”

Lewis said the speech was also made in front of a part of the Berlin Wall that was included in a sculpture created by Edwina Sandys, Churchill’s granddaughter.

Sandys and Gorbachev entered the podium in front of the throng of people by walking through an opening in the sculpture.

“That was so dramatic and so appropriate,” Lewis said. “It linked her grandfather’s Iron Curtain speech in Fulton in 1946 at the start of the Cold War and Gorbachev’s speech ending the Cold War 46 years later.”

Another Fulton resident who witnessed the event was Bruce Hackmann, president of the Fulton Area Development Corporation.

Hackmann at that time was director of press relations at Westminster College. He handled arrangements for more than 400 journalists representing 132 nations from around the world attending the historic event.

All major U.S. television networks and news channels fed live coverage from the event in Fulton. Seven television channels carried the event live in its entirety.

“On that day Fulton once again — just as it had been 46 years earlier during Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech — was the focus of the entire world,” Hackmann said.

Mikhail Gorbachev speaks at Westminster College in May 1992He said having the event outdoors made it even more impressive. He said if the address had been indoors only 1,200 to 1,300 people could have attended. But having the event outdoors created an audience estimated from 15,000 to 20,000.

“On that day Fulton and Westminster College were the epicenter of the world,”  Hackmann said. “We marketed the event as the beginning and end of the Cold War by speeches in Fulton.”
He added that, “Churchill’s speech was the Fort Sumpter start of the Cold War and Gorbachev’s speech was the Appomattox end of the Cold War,” a reference to the first and last battles of America’s Civil War.

Hackmann said he believes Gorbachev wanted to come to Westminster College to “deliver the epitaph to the Cold War.”

Hackmann said the event was a huge success.

“I recall comments by a journalist who had been all over the world. He wrote a letter to Westminster President Harvey Saunders saying from a media standpoint it was the best-organized event he had ever witnessed,” Hackmann said. “That made us feel good. A lot of people had looked at a small college in the Midwest and wondered how the major international event would be handled.”