Update: Yale events to honor life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

Yale University will honor the life and legacy of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. with a series of events organized under the theme “No Work is Insignificant”: Moving Forward through Service, Scholarship, and Solidarity, beginning on Sunday, Jan. 18 and continuing through Jan. 27.

Martin Luther King Jr. received an honorary doctorate from Yale in 1964. He is pictured here with then-Yale trustee the Reverend Gardiner M. Day.

Highlights include a speech by Johnnetta Cole, former president of two historically black colleges, on Jan. 18, the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History’s annual two-day King holiday celebration Jan. 18 and 19, a panel discussion on mass incarceration in America on Jan. 21, and a special screening of the film “Selma” on Jan. 24.

Yale’s King celebrations are open to all on campus and throughout the New Haven community at no charge.

Peabody Museum celebration

The Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, 170 Whitney Ave., will hold its “19th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Legacy of Environmental and Social Justice” event on Sunday, Jan. 18 from noon to 4 p.m. and on Monday, Jan. 19 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission to the museum is free on both days.

The two-day event will include musical and dance performances, storytelling, and educational activities for visitors of all ages, as well as a Teen Summit. The storytelling sessions will be held in conjunction with the New Haven Museum and take place on Monday, Jan. 19, at 114 Whitney Ave. Also on Monday, the Peabody will host its annual “Zannette Lewis Environmental and Social Justice Community Open Mic and Poetry Slam,” an opportunity for participants to share their original poetry or rap and to discuss issues of environmental and social justice. The full schedule of festival events, including registration information and links for the Teen Summit and the poetry slam, is available here at the Yale Peabody Museum’s website

Lecture by Johnnetta Cole

On Sunday, Jan. 18, all are invited to hear Johnnetta B. Cole, director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, give an address at Battell Chapel, corner of Elm and College streets, beginning at 6 p.m. Her speech, together with many other campus-wide events, is organized by the university’s Martin Luther King (MLK) Committee, led by the Afro-American Cultural Center at Yale and including representatives from a wide range of Yale departments and groups.

Johnnetta Cole

Cole is the only person to have served as president of two historically black colleges for women in the United States: Spelman College and Bennett College for Women. She did her undergraduate studies at Fisk University and Oberlin College and earned her Ph.D. in anthropology from Northwestern University, where her work focused on African studies.  The first African-American woman to serve as Spelman’s president, Cole is also professor emerita of Emory University, where she was the Presidential Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Women’s Studies, and African-American Studies.

Other campus and community events

Additional events on campus and in the community to honor King include the following (please note, information about events is still coming in; return to this page for updates as the holiday celebrations approach and check with individual event organizers for further details):

  • Thursday, Jan. 15: Shiloh Missionary Baptist, 100 Lawrence St., will hold its 45thAnnual “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Love March” beginning at 10:45 a.m. The church, pastored by the Reverend Kennedy D. Hampton Sr. ’09 M.Div., has held a celebration on King’s actual birthday every year since 1970.
  • Friday, Jan. 16: Congregation Mishkan Israel will host its annual Interfaith Martin Luther King Jr. Service, 7:30 p.m., 785 Ridge Road, Hamden. The guest speaker is Rabbi David Saperstein, ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom of the U.S. Department of State and former director of the Union for Reform Judaism’s Religious Action Center.
  • Monday, Jan. 19: Dwight Hall at Yale will sponsor “A Day of Service” from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Monday, Jan. 19: The Wexler-Grant Community School, 55 Foote St., will host its annual MLK conference, on the theme “All Voices Should Be Heard,” from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The event is sponsored by the Theta Epsilon Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.
  • Monday, Jan. 19: Music Haven and the St. Luke’s Steel Band will mark their fifth year of collaboration with a concert at 2 p.m. at St. Luke’s Church, 111 Whalley Ave., featuring arrangements of traditional African American spirituals as well as more current classics, such as Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” and “Progress” by the Nigerian Afro-Beat drummer Tony Allen.
  • Monday, Jan. 19: “Let Us Break Bread Together,” a celebration of King’s religious heritage 4–6 p.m. at Battell Chapel, corner of Elm and College streets. The theme of the celebration is “Infinite Hope: Advancing the Dream through Faith, Justice, and Equality.” The Reverend Carlton Lee, pastor of the Flood Christian Church in Ferguson, Missouri and the pastor to Michael Brown’s family, will deliver the keynote address on “Race and Faith in America,” and Yale student musical and spoken words groups will perform. The event is co-sponsored by the Black Church at Yale, the Yale International Church, and the University Church.
  • Monday, Jan. 19: The Yale Sustainable Food Project and Pierson College will host a masters tea at 4 p.m. at 231 Park St., to celebrate King’s legacy of social justice. The featured guest will be Michael Twitty, food writer and culinary historian who seeks to preserve and promote African-American foodways.
  • Wednesday, Jan. 21: A panel discussion on “Mass Incarceration and Minority Mobilization” will be held in Sudler Hall at William L. Harkness Hall (WLH), 100 Wall St., beginning at 6 p.m.; it will feature faculty from the Yale Law School and Department of African American Studies, police officers, and other community members.
  • Saturday, Jan. 24: There will be a screening of “Selma” at the Whitney Humanities Center, 53 Wall St., at 3 p.m. The screening will be introduced by Professor Matthew Jacobson, acting chair of African American Studies and will be followed by a discussion with Professors David Blight, Crystal Feimster, Jonathan Holloway, and Kobena Mercer. The event is sponsored by Yale-MLK Day Planning Committee; Department of African American Studies; Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition; and Films at the Whitney. Please note: Seating is limited and is on a first-come, first-served basis. Doors open at 2 p.m.
  • Sunday, Jan. 25: A MLK Worship Service will be presented jointly by the Black Church at Yale (BCAY) and the University Church at 10:30 a.m. in Battell Chapel, corner of Elm and College streets. BCAY Pastor Julian Reid ’13 will preach.
  • Monday, Jan. 26: The Department of African American Studies will host a teach-in from 7 to 9 p.m.; location and other details to be announced.
  • Tuesday, Jan. 27: The MLK Committee will host a performing arts showcase with campus cultural groups including Shades, Yale Gospel Choir, Heritage Ensemble, Asempa and WORD (a spoken word ensemble) at Sudler Hall in William L. Harkness, 100 Wall St., from 7:30 to 9 p.m.

For more information, visit the MLK Committee website.

The celebration of King’s work has a long tradition at Yale. King visited the university three times. He spoke about the future of integration and the civil rights movement before a full house in Woolsey Hall on Jan. 14, 1959 at the invitation of the Undergraduate Lecture Committee, and he celebrated his 30th birthday on Jan. 15 that year on campus. (See a video of his talk, below.)  In January 1962, King delivered a sermon in Battell Chapel at the invitation of University Chaplain William Sloane Coffin.

He returned to campus two years later when Yale presented him with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the university’s 262nd Commencement exercises on June 15, 1964. The citation read: “As your eloquence has kindled the nation’s sense of outrage, so your steadfast refusal to countenance violence in resistance to injustice has heightened our sense of national shame. When outrage and shame together shall one day have vindicated the promise of legal, social, and economic opportunity for all citizens, the gratitude of peoples everywhere and of generations of Americans yet unborn will echo our admiration.”

The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. spoke before more than 2,000 members of the Yale and New Haven community in Woolsey Hall on January 14, 1959, the eve of his 30th birthday. Here are some of his words, read by Yale students.
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