MLK Visits The Ivy League – Part Two

by Rashid Faisal

Dr. King delivered his lecture at 11 AM at Sage Chapel. His sermon was titled “The Three Dimensions of Life,” based on Revelations 21:16 from the Bible. According to Dr. King, the three dimensions of life were self-interest, interest in others, and love of God, which he used to explain the positives of racial integration and the negatives of racial violence and race hatred.

Five months later, on April 14, 1961, Dr. King visited Cornell University, where he spoke to a crowd of 2,600 people at a fundraiser at Bailey Hall, sponsored by the Cornell Committee Against Segregation and the Ithaca Freedom Walk. His lecture included the human dignity of Black Americans and social justice, voter suppression, wage inequality, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, and the need for ethical leadership in the struggle for equality. 

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Dr. King Martin Luther King Jr., at Princeton University

In March of 1960 and April of 1962, Dr. King visited Princeton University at the invitation of Rev. Ernest Gordon. King visited in March of 1960 as part of the Student Christian Association’s Biennial Religious Conference. He arrived at Princeton wearing a wool overcoat and a Homburg hat. 

During his visits, Dr. King spoke of love and the aims of the Civil Rights movement to eliminate barriers to genuine human brotherhood. Alastair Gordon, son of Rev. Gordon, remembers Dr. King as a humble guest and insists on helping others with the dishes after dinner.

Dr. King’s visits to Cornell and Princeton were meaningful experiences, where he brought up crucial topics to a broader audience, showing a genuine inner warmth and a sense of love for all men in his teachings. 

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Dr. King Luther King, Jr.  at Brown University

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at distinguished Ivy League universities – Brown and Columbia on two memorable occasions. In November 1960, Dr. King’s two speeches at Brown University drew administration and contemplation. Seven years later, on April 23, 1967, Dr. King, while addressing an assembly at Sayles Hall at Brown, firmly criticized the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War and decried racial injustice and economic disparities, going as far as linking militarism and warfare with ignoring domestic inequality.  

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On April 23, 1967, Dr. King delivered a fiery sermon against the Vietnam War at Brown University. Speaking at Sayles Hall on invitation from Brown University Chaplain Charles A. Baldwin, King spoke out against racial injustice, poverty, and economic injustice, and expanding militarism and warfare. His lecture was considered controversial and radical in its condemnation of America’s involvement in Vietnam and how he linked the country’s participation in military build-up and warfare to diverting the nation’s attention from economic disparity and racial injustice at home. 

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Brown Daily Herald, April 24, 1967

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Columbia University

On October 27, 1961, the thirty-two-year-old Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, arrived at Columbia University and delivered a speech admonishing America to live up to its promise of equality for all her citizens.  

Having successfully led the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1956, Dr. King was considered the nation’s preeminent civil rights activist and the face of a social movement aimed at completing the unfinished business of Reconstruction. Dr. King was the chairman of the Southern Christina Leadership Conference (SCLC). He integrated his social activism and messaging with Christian theology, specifically agape or conditional love and Gandhian nonviolence protest. 

In 1961, the civil rights movement continued to practice non-violent civil disobedience. Dr. King was at the forefront of this movement, including lunch-counter sit-ins and Freedom Rides. Dr. King addressed rallies, led protests, and spoke at Northern colleges, where he served as a philosopher, theorist, and practitioner in protesting Jim Crow segregation. 

The Owl, the weekly newspaper of the School of General Studies at Columbia University, invited Dr. King to speak at the university’s McMillin Theatre (now Miller Theater). Tickets to Dr. King’s speech were sold at City College, Hunter College, the New School, Pace University, Columbia, and other New York City colleges and universities. 


King onstage at McMillin Theatre (now Miller Theatre). Photo by Lawrence J. Howell, courtesy of Marian B. Wood.

Nearly four hundred people filled the McMillin Theatre to hear Dr. King discuss voter registration drives in Mississippi, where Black voters were disenfranchised for a century, and his lecture titled “Second Emancipation.” The audience was captivated by his message, which included a proposed executive order to outlaw Jim Crow segregation in federal programs and throughout America’s social institutions and public facilities. The Columbia Daily Spectator summarized King’s talk in an article titled “King Urges Kennedy to End Segregation.”  Dr. King’s “Second Emancipation” to end Jim Crow segregation would be embedded in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Dartmouth College

On May 23, 1962, Dr. King spoke at Dartmouth College. The title of the speech, “Toward Freedom,” was delivered at Dartmouth Hall at 8 PM to an overflow audience. He was initially scheduled to speak at Dartmouth in May of 1960 but faced unexpected court action from the state of Alabama in which he was acquitted on all charges of income tax evasion. In 1961, he was again scheduled to lecture at Rollins Chapel at Dartmouth. Dr. King arrived in Hanover, but due to the mass rioting in the South, he was compelled to terminate his Dartmouth visit and return to the front lines where angry Alabama mobs were attacking Freedom Riders. 

On May 23, 1962, King was finally able to deliver a lecture at Dartmouth Hall where he spoke on the rampant racism of the American South and the inequalities suffered by Black Americans in general. 

Dr. Luther King, Jr., at Yale University

Dr. King delivered his “The Future of Integration” speech on January 14, 1959, at Woolsey Hall to a packed house. The Undergraduate Lecture Committee invited him. Before his lecture, Dr. King met with Yale University president Whitney Griswold. 

It was not King’s first experience of Connecticut. As he traveled north from his jail cell in St. Augustine, Florida, where he had been held for protesting the city’s segregation policies, King may have reflected on his earlier visits to the state. At 16, he had spent a summer working in the tobacco fields near Hartford; he had just completed his first year at Morehouse College in Atlanta, and he had come north for the excellent pay and the chance to observe race relations in New England. King had been elated to find that he could sit anywhere in a restaurant and order food.

During his lecture at Dwight Hall, the New Haven police received a bomb threat. No bomb was found. Dr. King spoke on the future of integration. He stated: “I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism and the self-defeating method of physical violence.”

After his speech, the Undergraduate Lecture Committee hoisted a surprise birthday party for him at Yale’s Pierson College. Dr. King revisited Yale on January 14, 1962, where he spoke at Battell Chapel. 

In 1964, Dr. King received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Kingman Brewster Jr., president of Yale University. He received a standing ovation from the 10,000 people at Yale’s 263d commencement. Dr. King’s citation said: “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.”

Dr. King was released on bail from the St. Augustine, Florida jail just two days before receiving the degree from Yale. He had been arrested for ordering food in a white-only motel. Yale bestowing an honorary degree to Dr. King caused a national outcry. 

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Honorary degree recipients at Yale University’s 1964 Commencement on the steps of Woodbridge Hall.

5 Comments on "MLK Visits The Ivy League – Part Two"

  1. Very interesting info about a man that I think we’ll all agree stands apart as a real beacon of rectitude.
    One interesting pseudo-sociological observation: the coeval sources emphasise his “Reverend” qualification while present ones tend to underscore the “Doctor” (as in PhD) one; perhaps indicative of the shift in worship from God to academia.

  2. Thank you for this. His working, preached theology, rooted much more in the American Mainline Protestant (liberal) tradition that southern/midwestern (and these days, weirdo West Coast varieties of) evangelicalism(s), was deep — and profound. Far from radical, his political views, even toward the end, were steadfastly Liberal Establishment, which has always borrowed heavily from TR’s progressivism, Wilsonian Liberal Hegomony, FDR’s Social Gospel (see Rauschenbush) activist interventionism, and the leftish and fervently intellectual persuasions of every administration through JFK’s. His critics, many and frequently wrong, will not be remembered. He still stands tall as a very public bulwark of “the better angels of our nature” — as well as the Aeschylusian wisdom that our leaders are called to “tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.” He’s numbered among the saints. God have mercy upon the souls of his critics, who could, quite frankly, be merciless in their attacks.

  3. Oh, and this: he was a composed, thoughtful, dignified gentleman. With impeccable manners. Apparently the Yale crowd, including but not limited to Brewster, were impressed to the point of awe by his courteousness. His, well, civility.

    The same cannot be said of most modern-day politicans and public intellectuals. Certainly the same hasn’t been observed about his critics.

  4. whiskeydent | January 17, 2024 at 4:10 pm |

    Seems like I’ve heard mostly “Reverend Doctor…” lately, which seems like a covering-all-the-bases approach. Regardless, the March On Washington speech is perhaps the greatest speech in our nation’s history and I remain amazed that the “I have a dream…” section was mostly extemporaneous.

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