Yale News

While classes were out of session on Monday to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Yale’s campus honored the life and legacy of the famed civil rights activist through a series of events that started last week and will continue in the coming days.

The University’s commemorative programming began on Thursday, Jan. 16 with a community address by Angela Davis, an influential member of the Black Power Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Other celebrations and exhibits will run until Sunday, Jan. 26, ending with a joint worship service between the Black Church at Yale and University Church in Yale. Events planned for the two-week span include an exhibit at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and a Pierson tea on the day itself.

According to Pierson Head of College Dr. Stephen Davis, King has a strong historical connection to Pierson College. In 1959, the activist addressed more than 2,000 Yale community members in Woolsey Hall and later celebrated his birthday in Pierson College. His picture hangs in the dining hall today.

“The photograph of him cutting his 30th birthday cake hanging in our dining hall serves as a daily reminder to us of our communal responsibility to take up his call to justice,” Davis wrote in an email to the News. “In my opinion, that commitment to justice-making is a hallmark of our shared educational mission here at Yale.”

Pierson College’s celebration of King’s legacy included an MLK Day college tea with Erik Clemons, who is the founding CEO and president of the Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology.

Clemons’ organization hosts employment, arts and culinary programming to advance the careers of unemployed adults and at-risk youth.

“It’s … about people. It is where everyone has an opportunity to be great,” Clemons said. The CEO said he prioritizes solutions for the plight of black youth and looks to MLK as a source of inspiration for his work.

The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library also featured an exhibition on MLK Day, which included collections related to King and the broader African American freedom movement.

On Thursday, Jan. 16, Davis addressed the Yale community at the same venue King had 61 years prior, Woolsey Hall. Over 2,000 attendees — roughly the same number as those who had attended King’s address in 1959 — listened as Davis discussed the history and future of the black freedom movement.

A question and answer session led by Yale professor Crystal Feimster followed her speech.

“There are new generations of deeply political young people,” said Davis. “They teach us that there is hope, and it is this hope that must continually be regenerated and reinvigorated.”

Davis also said that music and art could have the power to unify communities, and she stressed the importance of black women in the Civil Rights Movement. At the event, a cappella group Shades of Yale performed “We Shall Overcome,” a gospel song which was sung as a form of protest and a key anthem of the Civil Rights Movement.

Since Jan. 16, Sterling Memorial Library has hosted an exhibit called “The Kings at Yale.” Commemorating visits that King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, made to Yale, the exhibit includes reproductions of photographs, correspondence, clippings and other materials drawn from Manuscripts and Archives at the Yale Library.

King holds an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, which Yale presented to him in 1964.

Brooke Alviar | brooke.alviar@yale.edu