Every year, Sterling Memorial Library presents “The Kings at Yale,” an exhibition honoring Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King on a banner in the library’s nave. This year, the exhibition was adapted to a virtual experience that became available for viewing last month.
The exhibit details the Kings’ visits to Yale in the 1960s. It includes a script of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech titled “The Future of Integration,” which he delivered on a visit to Yale in January 1959, as well as the important work Coretta Scott King did as the first Frances Blanshard Fellow at Yale.
According to Christine Weideman, director of Manuscripts and Archives and co-curator of the original physical exhibit, the virtual format allows the library to present the exhibit to a larger audience.
“Due to COVID, access to Sterling Library is limited to students, faculty and staff who are authorized to be on campus — and we wanted to make the exhibit available to the extended Yale community,” Weideman said. “Turning the banner display into an online exhibit has extended its reach and impact exponentially.”
Weideman added that the exhibit reflects a “proud moment” in the University’s history, one that most Yale community members may be unfamiliar with.
But Weideman said that the exhibition commemorates both Yale’s history and Black history by highlighting Martin Luther King Jr.’s honorary Yale degree and Coretta Scott King’s appointment as the first Frances Blanshard Fellow.
The exhibit reflects people, events, attitudes and opinions that impacted and transformed race relations in the United States in the 1960s. Weideman said she hopes the exhibition’s contents will serve as a “teaching vehicle” for those interested in learning about two critical figures in the civil rights movement and a significant era in American history.
Misheal Saah ’24 said the exhibition maintains an important tradition of celebrating Black history at Yale. “It is a reflection of the strength and perseverance our community holds in the face of adversity both in the past and the present,” Saah said.
Yet Saah added that the virtual format does not feel complete since it evokes a sentiment of detachment from the Kings who are commemorated in the exhibit.
Matthew Miller ’24 shared Saah’s sentiments. Miller said the Yale community can greatly benefit from the exhibit, despite its virtual format. He believes people often misunderstand what Martin Luther King Jr. represented, beyond the message “I have a dream.”
But Miller added that the University should do more to honor Black history.
“Martin Luther King Jr. was just one voice of many, and I think it’s especially important to realize the contributions of Black activists who may be less widely known,” Miller said.
Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King’s visits to Yale are documented in Manuscripts and Archives of the Yale Library.
Bryan Ventura | firstname.lastname@example.org