Library exhibits and campus events celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day throughout January

  • Black and white photo of man in suit and tie with arm raised to greet the hundreds of people in crowd below
January 19, 2024

The celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day—and his legacy as a leader of the Civil Rights Movement—continues throughout the month of January.

There is a banner exhibit in Sterling Memorial Library, an evening event with pioneering activist Ruby Bridges in Woolsey Hall, and a new exhibition at Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. All of these honor the inspiring activists, artists, and advocates who have worked for social justice and those who still do. 

The Kings 

The exhibition “The Kings at Yale”—mounted in the nave of Sterling Memorial Library—documents Yale’s connections to Civil Rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. The text and images on display draw on records and materials from multiple sources, including the Office of the President, YaleNews, national newspapers, and the library’s Manuscripts and Archives collection.

Dr. King made his first visit to Yale on January 14, 1959, the day before his 30th birthday. The lecture he delivered to undergraduates in Woolsey Hall was titled “The Future of Integration.”

Three years later, he visited Yale again—again on January 14—and spoke at Battell Chapel on “The Dimensions of a Complete Life.” “All I am saying is simply this,” he told his audience, “all life is interrelated. We are part of an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one affects all indirectly.”

In 1964 Dr. King visited Yale a third time to receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Just two days before, he had been released from a jail in St. Augustine, Florida, where he had been held for ordering food in a “whites-only” motel. Dr. King wrote to thank then president Kingman Brewster Jr. for the honorary degree: “Such an expression of confidence and support will give me renewed courage and vigor to carry on in the struggle to make the American dream a reality.” A facsimile of the letter is among the artifacts on display in the exhibit.

Coretta Scott King made her visit to Yale in 1969, when she was named the first Frances Blanshard Fellow. She spoke to a full crowd of female graduate students at Woolsey Hall. Her speech, “The Role of the Academic Community in Today’s Turbulent World,” addressed the importance of active participation in addressing social injustices. “Maybe the students, more than their elders,” she said, “recognize that the world in which we live has shrunk to such a dimension that, whether we like it or not, we live in One World.”

Visit the exhibit “The Kings at Yale” in Sterling Library through Jan. 29. View the online exhibition, permanently on display on the Yale Library website.

Ruby Bridges, Jan. 24

As part of the month-long celebration, the Yale University is hosting this year’s annual MLK Commemoration on Wed., Jan. 24, at 7:30 p.m. in Woolsey Hall. The event will also be livestreamed. Renowned Civil Rights activist, author, and speaker Ruby Bridges is the invited guest. She will be in conversation with Dr. William Johnson and Stephanie Owusu ’24 on the topic, “Building Bridges, Breaking Barriers: The Ongoing Fight for Educational Justice.”

Bridges was born in 1954, the same year the United States Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, ordering the integration of public schools. In 1960, Bridges was the first Black student to integrate an all-white elementary school in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The recipient of many awards for her work, Bridges established the Ruby Bridges Foundation to provide leadership training programs for youth and community leaders to inspire them to embrace and value the richness of diversity.

In 2018, she launched her initiative, The Ruby Bridges Walk to School Day, to join students across the country in a movement to end racism and unify communities. The event is now celebrated in public schools nationally on Nov. 14.

Risë Nelson, Yale Library’s director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA), is coordinating and hosting the MLK Commemoration. Advance registration is required for both the in-person and livestream event. 

Douglass, Baldwin, and Harrington, Jan. 26

The month closes with the opening of a new exhibition at Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. It features three influential figures in Black history, art, and culture: the 19th-century abolitionist and writer Frederick Douglass, novelist and essayist James Baldwin, and political cartoonist Ollie Harrington—all advocates of social justice working in various ways to ensure equal rights for Black Americans.

The exhibition features materials from the Walter and Linda Evans collection, which documents, advocates for, and celebrates Black arts in America.

“Douglass, Baldwin, and Harrington: The Walter O. Evans Collections at Beinecke Library” opens on Fri., Jan. 26 at Beinecke Library. A “Mondays at Beinecke” discussion with the three curators—Melissa Barton, Nancy Kuhl, and Kassidi Jones—will be online on Mon., Jan. 29, at 4 p.m. The exhibition’s opening reception is Fri., Feb. 2, at 4 p.m. at Beinecke Library.

“Ruby Bridges Storytime”

Earlier in the month, Yale Library DEIA Director Nelson, Shana Jackson (senior administrative assistant operations at Lillian Goldman Law Library), Nick Wantsala (Yale Library’s inaugural Kenya Flash Resident), and a small campus-wide planning team collaborated with New Haven Free Public Libraries (NHFPL) to offer “Ruby Bridges Storytime.”

The city-wide read for young students and families was held at four NHFPL branches and at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater New Haven. At the launch at Stetson Library on Jan. 16, Branch Manager Diane Brown and Children’s Librarian Phillip Modeen welcomed Toni Harp, MEnvD ’78. The former mayor read to second-graders from Lincoln Bassett Community School.

Later library events were held at the NHFPL Fair Haven branch, the NHFPL Ives Main Library, and the NHFPL Mitchell branch.


—Deborah Cannarella