In Honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 20, 2014

Today, the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. inspires many on our campus to engage in acts of service and outreach. Yale community members will volunteer at sites in and around New Haven as a special tribute to Dr. King, and there will be other events today and over the next week to honor Dr. King’s memory as well. I encourage you to participate.

Dr. King was a friend and inspiration to our community past and present. He visited Yale several times. In 1959, Dr. King addressed a full house in Woolsey Hall on January 14, the eve of his 30th birthday, which he celebrated that night with a cake presented by his student hosts in Pierson College. In January 1962, he returned to campus at the invitation of University Chaplain William Sloane Coffin and preached in Battell Chapel. (To listen to part of that sermon, click the “Part 2” button on Pacificaradio.) 

Dr. King received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at Yale Commencement in 1964, and he had to be bailed out of jail to make the trip to campus. The citation that was read that day proclaimed both gratitude and hope:

As your eloquence has kindled the nation’s sense of outrage, so your steadfast refusal to countenance violence in resistance to injustice has heightened our sense of national shame. When outrage and shame together shall one day have vindicated the promise of legal, social, and economic opportunity for all citizens, the gratitude of peoples everywhere and of generations of Americans yet unborn will echo our admiration as we proudly confer upon you the degree of Doctor of Laws.

Even after fifty years, the promise of legal, social, and economic opportunity for everyone is not fully realized, and I encourage all of us on this day to consider ways we might continue Dr. King’s legacy.