MLK at MIT

Legacies of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Institute

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The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968 sparked changes at MIT: formation of the BSU, new initiatives and programs, annual commemorations, and a designated Institute holiday.
MLK Design Seminar Exhibit, 2002
Source: Tobie Weiner, Will Lark

View from Killian Court of MLK Design Seminar Exhibit in Lobby 10, 2002

Martin Luther King, Jr. demonstrated [the butterfly] effect in the social and political realms: for if ever one man’s life–and life’s work–changed an entire society irreversibly, it was his life.
- Charles M. Vest, MIT President 1990-2004

Early MLK Exhibits

1968-1976

In April of 1968, MIT cancelled classes to join the nation in mourning the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. His death directly led to the formation of the MIT Black Students’ Union, as well as Interphase, a summer program that to the day prepares incoming students for the rigors of MIT.

MLK Observance Exhibit
Courtesy MIT Museum

MLK Observance exhibit at the Student Center, late 1960s

Student Center MLK Exhibit
Courtesy MIT Museum

MLK exhibit at the Student Center, 1968

"Where do we stand?"
Courtesy MIT Museum

"Where do we stand?" banner at Kresge Auditorium, 1968

Questions to MIT, 1968
Courtesy MIT Museum

Exhibit near the MIT Student Center, 1968

MLK Exhibit, 1976
Photo: Calvin Campbell/MIT News Office, Courtesy MIT Museum

MLK Exhibit in Lobby 10 the year Martin Luther King Day was designated an Institute holiday, 1976

MLK Commemorations

Since 1975

MIT began its annual commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1975, seven years after his assassination. The yearly memorial activities feature a march, a breakfast, and Dr. King-inspired lectures on campus by prominent speakers from across the disciplines, including Coretta Scott King in 1994.

Martin Luther King Day became a designated Institute holiday in 1976, a decade before its first official observance as a federal holiday.

It is so important for companies and institutions of higher education to make an earnest commitment to go beyond the letter of the law and to make diversity not just a buzzword for their public relations programs, but a real policy that will be reflected at every level of corporate decision-making.
- Coretta Scott King, MLK Keynote Address at MIT, 1994
Reflections of the Dream
Reflections of the Dream, 1975-1994: Twenty-One Years Celebrating the Life of Dr. Martin Jr. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Edited by Clarence G. Williams
MIT Press, 1996

Bringing together speeches given at the Institute's annual King Day convocation, this book celebrates two decades of commitment by MIT to honoring the honoring the memory and furthering the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. In reading these speeches, one catches in reflection twenty years of turmoil and change, some positive (including an increasing number of speakers drawn from the ranks of MIT's African American alumni/ae) but much negative, in which Dr King's dream has been a continuing beacon for action. Speakers have included leaders who are prominent both nationally and in the local (Boston/Cambridge) community, in accordance with Dr. King’s dual emphasis on global and local issues. The book closes with Coretta Scott King’s twentieth-anniversary address in 1994.

MIT MLK Visiting Professors and Scholars Program

Since 1991

The annual MLK Celebration's public events and lectures paved the way for bringing several visiting professors across disciplines to campus each academic year under the MIT Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professor and Scholar Program.

In 1988, MIT appointed a committee chaired by Professor Michael Feld of the Physics Department (NASA astronaut Ronald E. McNair‘s PhD advisor and mentor). The Institute Committee was charged with considering how MIT could further call community attention to Dr. King’s life, work, and contributions. Among the committee’s recommendations were the establishment of the MLK Visiting Scholars program in 1991 and its expansion, the MLK Visiting Professors program, in 1995. Since then, the MLK Visiting Professors and Scholars Program has enriched the intellectual life of MIT.

The first ever appointed Visiting Scholar was Henry C. McBay, a retired professor of chemistry at Morehouse College, Dr. King’s alma mater. His dedicated service to the fields of chemistry and teaching included developing a treatment for prostate cancer and advancing a chemistry education program in Liberia on behalf of UNESCO in 1951.

The four inaugural Visiting Professors appointed in 1995 were: Wesley Harris (aeronautics and astronautics), Richard Joseph (political science), Steven Lee (mathematics), and Oliver McGee (civil and environmental engineering).

Henry McBay, 1990
Source: Clarence G. Williams

MIT MLK Celebration Banquet, December 1990. Left to right: Mark S. Wrighton, MIT Provost; Henry C. McBay, inaugural MLK Visiting Scholar; Louis Sullivan, US Secretary of Human Services; and Charles M. Vest, MIT President.

Henry C. McBay: A Chemical Festschrift book cover
Henry C. McBay: A Chemical Festschrift
Edited by William M. Jackson and Billy Joe Evans
MIT Press, 1994

Proceedings of a symposium honoring Henry C. McBay as the Institute's first MLK Scholar. The volume opens with a biographical chapter by science historian and MIT professor Kenneth R. Manning. Appendices include a list of Dr. McBay's publications and of chemistry majors under him who went on to earn doctoral and medical degrees.

MLK Design Seminar

Since 1991

Since 1991, the MLK Design Seminar has brought MIT and Wellesley students together each January, during the Institute's Independent Activities Period (IAP), to create artistic and political campus installations to coincide with the Institute commemorations.

In the seminar taught by Tobie Weiner (Course 17.922), students develop an in-depth understanding of the history of US racial issues, as well as past and present domestic and international political struggles. Then groups work to complete installations and other projects that connect academics with real-life problems and struggle.

MLK Leadership Awards

Since 1995

Beginning in 1995, MIT has awarded annual MLK Leadership Awards to students, alumni, staff, groups and faculty who embody the spirit of Dr. King’s work. “Service to the community” is defined in the broadest sense and includes academic, research, religious, and secular contributions in which integrity, leadership, creativity, and positive outcome are apparent.

Wes Harris
In 2014, Wesley L. Harris received the 40th MLK Celebration Lifetime Achievement Award, a special honor given only during decennial celebrations to acknowledge a community member who has given dedicated service to the MIT Community. The Institute also honored Dr. Harris with a MLK Leadership Award in 2001. A year later, the Minority Introduction to Engineering, Entrepreneurship and Science program established the Wesley L. Harris Scholarship Fund for MITE2S in his name. Dr. Harris has been a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at many different points in his career, first serving from 1972-79, returning as an inaugural 1995-96 MLK Visiting Professor, then remaining at MIT from 1996 to the present.

MLK Day Marches

1975-2016
MLK Day March, 1975
Photo: Calvin Campbell/MIT News Office, Courtesy MIT Museum

MIT's first MLK Day march at the Student Center, 1975

MLK Day March, 1976
Photo: Calvin Campbell/MIT News Office, Courtesy MIT Museum

MLK Day march at the Student Center the year Martin Luther King Day was designated an Institute holiday, 1976

MLK Day March, 1977
Photo: Calvin Campbell/MIT News Office, Courtesy MIT Museum

MLK Day march at 77 Massachusetts Avenue, 1977

MLK Day March, 1978
Photo: Calvin Campbell/MIT News Office, Courtesy MIT Museum

MLK Day march at the Student Center, 1978.
Front row, left to right: Clarence G. Williams (MIT Special Assistant to the President), Jerome H. Holland (New York Stock Exchange and MIT Corporation board member), and Jerome B. Wiesner (MIT President); second row, left to right: Josie Bertie (Secretary to the MIT Special Assistant to the President) and Paul E. Gray (MIT Chancellor).

MLK Day March, 1979
Photo: Calvin Campbell/MIT News Office, Courtesy MIT Museum

MLK Day march at the Student Center, 1979.
Front row, left to right: Clarence G. Williams (MIT Special Assistant to the President), Rev. Melvin G. Brown (Union Baptist Church, Cambridge), Josie Bertie (Secretary to the MIT Special Assistant to the President), and Paul E. Gray (MIT Chancellor).

MLK Day March, 1980
Photo: Calvin Campbell/MIT News Office, Courtesy MIT Museum

MLK Day march at the Student Center, 1980.
Front row: Rev. Anthony C. Campbell (second from left; Boston University preacher in residence) and Clarence G. Williams (far right; MIT Special Assistant to the President)

MLK Day March, 1981
Photo: Calvin Campbell/MIT News Office, Courtesy MIT Museum

MLK Day march at the Student Center, 1981.
Front row, left to right: Rev. LeRoy Attles (St. Paul AME Church, Cambridge), Paul E. Gray (MIT President), Priscilla K. Gray (MIT Public Service Center co-founder), and Clarence G. Williams (MIT Special Assistant to the President)

MLK Day March, 1982
Photo: Calvin Campbell/MIT News Office, Courtesy MIT Museum

MLK Day march at the Student Center, 1982.
Front row, left to right: Charles S. Brown (AT&T Bell Laboratories
), Paul E. Gray (MIT President), Priscilla K. Gray (MIT Public Service Center co-founder), and Clarence G. Williams (MIT Special Assistant to the President)

MLK Day March, 1983
Photo: Calvin Campbell/MIT News Office, Courtesy MIT Museum

MLK Day march at the Student Center, 1983.
Front row, left to right: Paul E. Gray (MIT President), Priscilla K. Gray (MIT Public Service Center co-founder), A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr. (Presiding Judge, U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review), and Clarence G. Williams (MIT Special Assistant to the President)

MLK Day March, 1984
Photo: Calvin Campbell/MIT News Office, Courtesy MIT Museum

MLK Day march at the Student Center, 1984.
Front row, left to right: Bishop John R. Bryant (AME Episcopal Church) Paul E. Gray (MIT President), Priscilla K. Gray (MIT Public Service Center co-founder), and Clarence G. Williams (MIT Special Assistant to the President)

MLK Day March, 1995
Photo: Sharon N. Young-Pong/The Tech, Courtesy MIT Museum

MLK Day march at the Student Center, 1995.
Front row, left to right: Leo Osgood (director of MIT Office of Minority Education), Charles M. Vest (MIT President), A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr. (former U.S. Chief Judge), and Becky Vest.

MLK Day silent march, 2016
Photo: Bryce Vickmark/MIT News

The "Truth & Power: Students Leading for Change" MLK Celebration program began with a silent march starting at Lobby 7 and ending at Walker Memorial Hall, February 2016. Front row, left to right: Alberto Hernández ’17 and Rasheed Auguste ’17.