Celebrating the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr with former Yale trustee the Rev. Gardiner M. Day in 1964
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., shown here with former Yale trustee the Rev. Gardiner M. Day, received an honorary LL.D degree at Yale’s 263rd commencement in 1964.

In 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested in Florida for ordering food in a “whites-only” motel. Just two days after he was released on bail from the St. Augustine jail, he was celebrated at Yale, where he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

It has long been an annual Yale tradition to honor King and his legacy around the time of his birthday. Over 10 days, starting Jan. 16, the 2020 celebration will unfold on campus and throughout New Haven. Among other events, it will feature keynote talks by noted activists; programs at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History on environmental and social justice; an exhibition at Sterling Memorial Library showcasing documents related to campus visits by King and his wife, Coretta Scott King; a discussion on mass incarceration; and a concert featuring Music Haven and the St. Luke’s Steel Band. The celebration is scheduled to kick off Thursday, Jan. 16, with a live conversation with noted activist, author, and educator Angela Davis before a sold-out crowd in Battell Chapel.

Below are descriptions of related upcoming events, all free and open to the public. A complete schedule and further information can be found on the website for the campus celebration.

The Kings at Yale’

Jan. 16-March 28, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Sterling Memorial Library, 120 High St.

The exhibition, located in the nave at Sterling Memorial Library, presents reproductions of records and archival materials documenting visits to Yale by King and his wife, Coretta Scott King.

King was first invited to Yale in 1959 by an undergraduate lecture committee. He came, and spoke on “The Future of Integration.” He returned in 1962, and again in 1964, when he received an honorary Yale degree. Yale’s awarding of the degree caused considerable reaction, both for and against the honor, around the country.

In 1969, the year after King’s assassination, Coretta Scott King was named the first Frances Blanshard Fellow at Yale. While on campus, she met with women graduate students and spoke to a standing-room-only crowd in Woolsey Hall on the importance of campus unrest in addressing social injustices.

Reckoning with “The Incident”: John Wilson Studies for a Lynching Mural’

Friday, Jan. 17-Sunday, May 10
Yale University Art Gallery, 1111 Chapel St.

In 1952, while a student at La Esmeralda, Mexico’s national school of art, American artist John Wilson painted a mural that he titled “The Incident.” The fresco depicted a scene of a racial-terror lynching at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan, as witnessed by a young African American family. Although the mural is no longer extant, this exhibition brings together publicly for the first time nearly all of Wilson’s known preparatory sketches and painted studies for it, as well as prints and drawings.

24th annual Peabody Museum celebration

Sunday & Monday, Jan. 19 & 20
Peabody Museum of Natural History, 170 Whitney Ave.

The Peabody Museum annually honors King’s efforts to ensure environmental and social justice among all people. The weekend’s activities include performances, a community open mic, and educational activities for visitors of all ages. Special programming includes a professional poetry slam, storytelling, and a dance performance.

The annual World Stage Performances will feature a mix of musical performances both Sunday and Monday in the O.C. Marsh Lecture Hall of the Yale Science Building, 260 Whitney Ave.

Youth and their families are invited to join the MLK Youth Day hosted by Students for Educational Justice at Kroon Hall, 195 Prospect St., on Sunday from noon to 2 p.m. Youth-led activities — including “Black Jeopardy” and “Karaoke Throwback!” — are open to visitors of all ages.

The Zanette Lewis Environmental and Social Justice Professional Poetry Slam and Community Mic will take place on Monday on the third floor of Kroon Hall, 195 Prospect St. The community open mic will be held 11 a.m.-noon. It will be followed at 12:30 p.m. by the professional poetry slam. A spoken word workshop will be offered 10:30-11:30 a.m., hosted by founders of the “Activist Songbook!”

Also on Monday, local storytellers will present family-friendly stories and community organizations will lead hands-on activities for children at the New Haven Museum, 114 Whitney Ave. A special dance performance by Artsucation will begin there at 2 p.m.

Celebration events take place on Saturday from noon to 4 p.m., and on Monday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. All ages are welcome.

The museum’s celebration is sponsored by Citizens Bank and is co-hosted by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Visit the Peabody Museum website for more specific event times and more information.

Celebrating the Modern Prophet’

Sunday, Jan. 19, 11 a.m.
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 111 Whalley Ave.

This service will recall the life and leadership of King. The civil rights leader will be remembered for his commitment to nonviolent change with the aim of inspiring hope in attendees to continue struggles for freedom, justice, and peace. The event is free, but register in advance.

Letter(s) from Birmingham Jail’

Sunday, Jan. 19, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Elm City Vineyard Church, 425 College St.

In 1963, King wrote a letter from his jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, to eight white clergymen, in which he defended nonviolent action and protest. “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed,” King wrote.

This panel discussion will explore the following questions: How do we fight for freedom and justice with a system that promotes mass incarceration? How can we influence the future as people concerned with the welfare of those impacted by this country’s criminal justice system?

Panelists include Zelda Roland, founding director of the Yale Prison Education Initiative; Stevenson Lockley, a senior clinician for Living Free; Willis McCraw, a prison chaplain at Manson Youth Institution; and Asti Jackson, a political campaigner with CONECT and co-chair of its Clean State campaign.

Keep Moving Forward’

Monday, Jan. 20, 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Wexler-Grant Community School, 55 Foote St.

King’s legacy will be celebrated during a day filled with workshops, exhibits, vendors, raffles, and more. The free event includes breakfast and lunch, and is open to all.

King and the African American Freedom Movement

Jan. 20, noon-4 p.m.
Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, 121 Wall St.

Highlights from the Beinecke Library’s collections related to King and to the African American freedom movement will be on public view in the courtyard-level reading room.

MLK Day concert

Monday, Jan. 20, 2-3 p.m.
First and Summerfield Church, 426 College St.

Music Haven and the St. Luke’s Steel Band will present their annual musical celebration honoring the life and work of King. Select Music Haven students and teachers will perform.

Chewing the Fat’ with ConnCAT founder

Monday, Jan. 20, 4-5 p.m.
Lietner House, Pierson College, 261 Park St.

Erik Clemons, founding CEO and president of the Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT), will discuss the way ConnCAT’s culinary programming benefits underserved members of the New Haven community. ConnCAT also hosts job training and after-school programs with the goal of preparing city youth and adults for educational and career advancement. Prior to founding ConnCAT, Clemons was the executive director of Leadership, Education, and Athletics in Partnership (LEAP), which provides enrichment programs to New Haven youth.

Chewing the Fat” is the Yale Sustainable Food Program’s longstanding speaker series. This event is being held in collaboration with Pierson College and the Yale Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration.

Faith in the People’

Poet Nikki Giovanni will give a keynote address, “Faith in the People,” on Thursday, Jan. 23, in O.C. Marsh Hall of the Yale Science Building. Tickets for this event are already sold out.

Giovanni is one of America’s most widely read poets. Known for outspokenness in her writing and lectures, she is also committed to the fight for civil rights and equality. She emphasizes the power of the individual in making a difference in the lives of others. She has written more than 30 books for both adults and children. She has been named “Woman of the Year” by Mademoiselle, Ladies Home Journal, and Ebony magazine. She was the first recipient of the Rosa L. Parks Woman of Courage Award, and was also awarded the Langston Hughes Medal for poetry.

The lecture is sponsored by the Afro-American Cultural Center, the Yale College Dean’s Office, the Department of African American Studies, and Yale’s Office of the Secretary and Vice President for Student Life.

Joint worship service

Sunday, Jan. 26, 10 a.m.
Afro-American Cultural Center, 211 Park St.

This annual Christian worship celebration reunites two of Yale’s congregations — the Black Church at Yale and the University Church — in a worship service honoring King. The event will feature the Black Church at Yale praise choir, Breath of Life, and the University Church Choir. This year’s guest speaker will be the Reverend Bonita Grubbs ’84 M.A.R., ’85 M.P.H., executive director of Christian Community Action.

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Media Contact

Bess Connolly: elizabeth.connolly@yale.edu, 203-432-1324