The Kings at Yale virtually adapts to showcase Martin Luther King, Jr. archives
The once-physical installation, highlighting Martin Luther King, Jr.'s relationship to Yale, makes a return in an online exhibit by the Yale University Library.
The Kings at Yale online exhibition at Yale’s library commemorates Martin Luther King, Jr.’s achievements and legacy by capturing the moments of his and his wife’s visits to Yale. King visited Yale in 1959 and again in 1964. His wife, Coretta Scott King, visited Yale in 1969.
On Jan. 14, 1959, during his first trip to Yale, King gave a lecture about “The Future of Integration.” King, along with Brook Hays, Henry Ford II and Walter Reuther, were invited to speak by the Undergraduate Lecture Committee as part of a Dwight Hall lecture series on the topics of “civil rights and economic life.” In April 1959, Yale University published these speeches in “Crises in Modern America.” In 1964, King visited Yale to receive an honorary degree from Yale while he was on bail. According to the Yale Alumni Magazine, King was “the only honoree ever to come to Commencement directly from a jail cell.” Reception of this event was mixed. The exhibit captures the varied reactions to King’s honorary degree in the sections “Positive Reactions to the Honorary Degree” and “Negative Reactions to the Honorary Degree.”
Patricia Carey, director of communications and marketing at Yale University Library, said that “the original physical exhibit was a set of five vertical banners first displayed in the Sterling Memorial Library Nave in 2016.”
According to Carey, “the banners were first installed in the Nave in January 2016, on the Friday before the MLK, Jr. holiday and remained on view through the end of February 2016, in celebration of Black History Month. The banners were reinstalled during this same period each year from 2016 through 2020.”
The Kings at Yale online exhibit was adapted from the in-person annual exhibit held in Sterling Memorial Library after the Nave was repurposed for the library’s contactless pickup service due to COVID-19.
In January 2021, the library released the online exhibit to the public. It was designed to reflect many of the same features as the original exhibit. The five sections on the online exhibit “mirror the five banners in the physical exhibit pretty well,” said Bill Landis, associate director for Public Service in Manuscript and Archives.
However, the online format also allowed flexibility to add supplemental material to the archival materials. Landis said, “In the online version we were able to enhance a bit by linking to Judith Schiff’s 2004 Yale Alumni Magazine article, which was not possible on the physical banners.”
Landis said that the creation of the online exhibit took “two weeks.”
“Staff in Manuscripts and Archives digitized the collection materials, and Sarah Davis and Trip Kirkpatrick did the ‘translation’ from banners to Omeka, the platform for the library’s online exhibits,” said Landis.
Trip Kirkpatrick is a digital scholarship technologist, and Sarah Davis is a library exhibits technician.
Davis sees her job as translating physical exhibits, rather than replicating them.
“I certainly include all of the same material (barring any copyright restraints), but then very heavily take into consideration the user experience, and how a visitor to the site will interact with each section, and that’s what guided me as I was thinking through how best to setup each section of [The Kings at Yale] online exhibition,” she said. “While each section of the online exhibition represents each physical banner, there are some slight differences in the overall layouts that I created.”
Davis further explained the thought process that went into creating the online exhibit. She looked to add explanatory text to each of the banners to “complement the visual material and provide context on the significance of the included materials.”
“In the ‘Negative Reactions’ section … there is a two-page letter from an alum to President Brewster … as well as Brewster‘s response!” she said. “Things like that can be really fascinating to people so I wanted to include text there to draw attention to that set of documents.”
When asked if the in-person exhibit will make a reappearance at the library, Carey said, “With the exhibit available online, we had been planning to install the banners next year, when — hopefully — Sterling Nave will again be open to visitors,” but after reflecting “on how many students are new to Yale since the pandemic and might be interested in seeing the banners,” the team has decided to put the physical banners back on the Nave, where they will be up until March 1.
The archival materials in The Kings at Yale exhibit are part of the collections held by Manuscripts and Archives at the Yale University Library.