Yale celebrates legacy and impact of Martin Luther King Jr.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Yale
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.

The Yale community is celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this month in a series of online events that explore the legacy of the civil rights icon and his continued impact today.

The events — which include storytelling, music, dance, talks, poetry, and an online exhibit — will culminate with a Jan. 27 discussion on King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech and its continued relevance, featuring Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, and Yamiche Alcindor, PBS NewsHour’s White House correspondent.

The events kicked off on Jan. 14 with a discussion of King’s legacy by local environmental and social justice leaders as part of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History’s annual Martin Luther King Day celebration.

Highlights of upcoming events follow.

A legacy of environmental and social justice

The Yale Peabody Museum’s multi-day celebration, “Dr. Martin Luther King’s Legacy of Environmental and Social Justice,” continues with a series of online offerings through Monday, Jan. 18. Events include a poetry jam, storytelling, dance performances, an examination of King’s legacy and the role of Black librarians in fighting social injustice, and a youth roundtable. A special panel featuring community organizers and artists will explore community “activation,” collective awakening, and how the arts can be used to achieve social change.

The free events, some of which are hosted by the New Haven Museum, are available on various digital platforms, including Zoom and the Yale Peabody Museum’s Facebook page. Some require registration. A full listing of events can be found on the museum’s website.

The Kings at Yale’

The Sterling Memorial Library’s annual exhibition commemorating Yale visits by King, in 1959 and 1964, and his wife Coretta Scott King, in 1969, has been recreated as an online exhibit that is open to all.

King was invited to Yale in 1959 by an undergraduate lecture committee and spoke on “The Future of Integration.” In 1964, he returned to the campus to receive an honorary degree. Just two days before his visit, the civil rights leader had been arrested for ordering food in a whites-only motel. His honorary degree from the university provoked both positive and negative reactions across the country.

Coretta Scott King was named the first Frances Blanshard Fellow at Yale in 1969. 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.

Exhibition materials include reproductions of records from the Office of the President, former Yale president Kingman Brewster, the Office of Public Affairs and Communications, Yale Events and Activities Photographs, Building and Grounds Photographs, the Helen Hadley Hall Fellowship Program, and YaleNews. The exhibition is typically presented on banners in the Sterling Memorial nave.

The free exhibition can be accessed online through Feb. 28 at 5 p.m.

Origins of the Dream’

The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library will host a free online gallery talk, “Origins of the Dream: Langston Hughes’ Poetry and Martin Luther King Jr.’s Rhetoric,” on Monday, Jan. 18, at 4 p.m. on Zoom. The talk features W. Jason Miller, professor of literature at North Carolina State University. His book “Origins of the Dream: Hughes’ Poetry and King’s Rhetoric” traces the civil rights leader’s use of Hughes’ poetry in his sermons and speeches from 1956 to 1968. Miller is also the author of “Langston Hughes (Critical Lives),” published in 2020, and “Langston Hughes and American Lynching Culture” (2011).

The public is invited to join the Zoom talk; registration is required.

The Work Ahead: The Work Within’

The Yale event featuring Cullors and Alcindor for a discussion of “The Work Ahead, The Work Within: Reflecting on King’s Dream in 2021” be held on Wednesday, Jan. 27 on Zoom, 7:15-8:30 p.m. Registration is required.

Cullors, who is also an author, educator, political strategist, and organizer, and Alcindor will discuss King’s dream for racial and economic justice from a contemporary perspective. The event is co-sponsored by the Afro-American Cultural Center, the Yale College Dean’s Office, the Office of the Secretary and Vice President for Student Life, and other campus units.

Excerpts of King’s 1959 speech at Woolsey Hall — read by Yale students — are brought to life in a 2013 YaleNews feature.  

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