Category: MIT’s History

MLK’s legacy at MIT

On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, we look back to April 5, 1968 when MIT mourned Dr. King and called the campus to act for racial justice.

The April 9, 1968 issue of the MIT student newspaper The Tech reported on a special memorial service for the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. at 12:10 PM on April 5th the day after King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. King was a prominent leader of the Civil Rights Movement and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who was known for his use of nonviolent civil disobedience. King’s tragic death, at the age of 39, shocked, saddened, and enraged people around the world. How did the MIT campus respond?

Tech reporter Steve Carhart (Class of 1970, SM 1972) stated that the event was “hastily organized” by “an ad hoc group of faculty, students and members of the administration” and seven speakers spoke to the nearly filled Kresge Auditorium. Carhart wrote that “MIT President Howard W. Johnson opened the meeting, then the other six read excerpts from Dr. King’s speeches.” The article quotes brief remarks made by the last speaker, MIT Professor Harold Isaacs, who had been a friend of Dr. King. The impromptu memorial was not recorded, as far as we know, but some documents were found in the IASC.

In the Office of the President and Office of the Chairman of the Corporation records of Howard W. Johnson, there are prepared remarks by Johnson and Isaacs and excerpts, without citations, of King’s speeches assigned to five of the speakers (AC-0118, box 198, folder 6 “King, Martin Luther, 1968-1976”).

According to the list in AC-0118 and the story in The Tech, the speakers were as follows:

1. President Howard W. Johnson
2. Mr. Robert Tinker (PhD 1970)
3. Mr. Gustave M. Solomons, Class of 1928
4. Mr. Stephen E. Straus, Class of 1968
5. Miss Maria L. Kivisild, Class of 1969, (no assigned reading found in AC-0118)
6. Prof. Willard R. Johnson
7. Prof. Harold R. Isaacs

Only Willard Johnson and Maria Kivisild (now Ogrydziak) are still living. Johnson is Professor of Political Science Emeritus at the Institute. Ogrydziak, the first woman president of the MIT Undergraduate Association, is an architect in California.

In his prepared remarks, President Johnson said King’s life and example called “for a self-searching response from all of us, as individuals, as institutions and as a nation.” Isaacs said: “The bullet that felled Martin Luther King came out of … the madness of racism … that we all share in some way or other” and he closed with: “The question is what we do about it, each one of us beginning with himself.”

An editorial in the same issue of The Tech also called for action. The editorial “Apathy, the students and Dr. King”, appears to paraphrase a quote from a King speech read by Gus Solomons at Kresge. The source for both is very likely King’s 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail“. The Tech editorial likens “‘white moderates, who would rather have peace and security than justice'” to MIT students who “would much rather have ‘peace and security’ inside the confines of this institution than work for justice outside the boundaries of the campus.” The editorial suggests that a recent ruling ending graduate student draft deferments from the Vietnam War would end complacency and force classmates “to fight (in one sense or another) for what he believes in.”

The Tech archives and other MIT publications, Institute records and faculty papers in the IASC document how the MIT community reacted first to Martin Luther King’s death, and then responded in the months and years after April 4, 1968 to Dr. King’s challenge to build the beloved community of equity, diversity, inclusion and justice.

-Myles Crowley

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April 5, 1968: MIT mourns Dr. King

The April 9, 1968 issue of the MIT student newspaper The Tech reported on a memorial service for the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. at 12:10 PM on April 5th, the day after King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King was a prominent leader of the Civil Rights Movement and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who was known for his use of nonviolence and civil disobedience. King’s tragic death, at the age of 39, shocked, saddened, and enraged people around the world. How did the MIT campus respond?

The Tech reported that the memorial service was “hastily organized” by “an ad hoc group of faculty, students and members of the administration” and seven speakers spoke to the nearly-filled Kresge Auditorium.  The article, written by Steve Carhart ’70, described how “MIT President Howard W. Johnson opened the meeting, then the other six read excerpts from Dr. King’s speeches.” The article quoted brief remarks made by the last speaker, MIT professor Harold Isaacs, who had been a friend of Dr. King. The impromptu service likely was not recorded, but a text record exists in the MIT Institute Archives and Special Collections (IASC).

Prepared remarks of Johnson and Isaacs, and excerpts, without citations, of King’s speeches assigned to five of the speakers are in part of the collection: Office of the President and Office of the Chairman of the Corporation, records of Howard W. Johnson (AC-0118, box 198, folder 6).

According to a list in AC-0118, and as reported in The Tech, the speakers were as follows:

1. President Howard W. Johnson
2. Mr. Robert Tinker, G-VIII
3. Mr. Gustave M. Solomons, ’28
4. Mr. Stephen E. Straus, ’68
5. Miss Maria L. Kivisild, ’69, (no assigned reading is in AC-0118)
6. Prof. Willard R. Johnson
7. Prof. Harold R. Isaacs

Only Willard Johnson and Maria Kivisild, now Ogrydziak, are still living. Johnson is Professor of Political Science Emeritus at MIT. Ogrydziak, the first woman president of the MIT Undergraduate Association, is an architect in California.

In his prepared remarks, President Johnson said that King’s life and example called “for a self-searching response from all of us, as individuals, as institutions and as a nation.” Isaacs said: “The bullet that felled Martin Luther King came out of … the madness of racism … that we all share in some way or other” and he closed with: “The question is what we do about it, each one of us beginning with himself.”

An editorial in the same issue of The Tech also called for action. Titled “Apathy, the students and Dr. King”, the editorial appears to paraphrase a quote from a King speech read by Gus Solomons at Kresge. The source for both is very likely King’s 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” The Tech editorial likened “white moderates, who would rather have peace and security than justice” to MIT students who “would much rather have ‘peace and security’ inside the confines of this institution than work for justice outside the boundaries of the campus.” The editorial suggested that a recent ruling ending graduate student Vietnam War draft deferments would end complacency and force each student “to fight (in one sense or another) for what he believes in.”

Many MIT students did indeed shake-off their apathy and campuses saw a burst of activism in the late 1960s and early 1970s and this period is a popular subject for study. Past issues of The Tech, other MIT publications and records in the IASC show how the MIT community responded to the activism inspired by and the causes championed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 50 years ago.

AC-0118b198f6-MLK

Contents of collection AC-0118, box 196, folder 6

-Myles Crowley

 

Collection Spotlight: Black Women in the Academy conference records

Conference program and packet from the Black Women in the Academy: Defending Our Name, 1894-1994, Conference Records, AC 533, box 1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Institute Archives and Special Collections, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Conference program and packet from the Black Women in the Academy: Defending Our Name, 1894-1994, Conference Records, AC 533, box 1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Institute Archives and Special Collections, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

There is power when people come together, share information, support one another, and organize for change. The Black Women in the Academy: Defending Our Name, 1894-1994, Conference records is a collection within the MIT institute Archives & Special Collections that documents just such an event.

The conference was a historical one and occurred 100 years after the First National Conference of the Colored Women of America. This earlier conference brought together members from the Women’s Era Club of Boston and members from 42 other black women’s clubs from around the United States. The Women’s Era Club was formed in the early 1890s by prominent black women of Boston Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, her daughter, Florida Ruffin Ridley, and educator Maria Louise Baldwin. The club advocated for education, women’s suffrage, and race-related issues such as anti-lynching reform.

At the 1994 conference over 1,500 women joined together on the MIT campus in what was the first national conference focusing on issues pertaining to black women working in academia. In honor of the first historic meeting of black women in Boston, this conference was called “Black Women in the Academy: Defending Our Name 1894-1994”.

Wikipedia article for the conference created at IASC sponsored Wikipedia edit-a-thon.

Wikipedia article for the conference created at IASC sponsored Wikipedia edit-a-thon using collection AC533 Black Women in the Academy: Defending Our Name, 1894-1994, Conference Records.

The conference was planned and organized by two MIT faculty members, Robin W. Kilson, professor in history and women’s studies, and Evelynn Hammonds, professor in science, technology, and society. There were workshops, panels, roundtables, and featured addresses by Angela Davis, Lani Guinier, and Johnnetta Cole. Performance artist Vinie Burrows presented her one-woman show, “Sister, Sister.”

Vinie Burrows "Sister! Sister!" performance program from Black Women in the Academy: Defending Our Name, 1894-1994, Conference Records, AC 533, box 1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Institute Archives and Special Collections, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Vinie Burrows “Sister! Sister!” performance program from Black Women in the Academy: Defending Our Name, 1894-1994, Conference Records, AC 533, box 1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Institute Archives and Special Collections, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In the MIT Institute Archives & Special Collections, there is a small collection related to the 1994 conference. It includes a call for papers, a registration form, a conference attendee information packet, copies of articles about the conference, and videocassettes featuring conference remarks, keynote speeches, and the performance of Vinie Burrows.

The finding aid for the collection can be seen here.

-Greta Kuriger Suiter

 

On This Day: The Blizzard of ’78

40 years ago, today, the Blizzard of ’78, hit Cambridge dumping over 27 inches of snow and closing the Institute for a week. A brief description of the storm and its aftermath appeared in the Report of the President and the Chancellor:

A salute for extraordinary achievements must go this year as well to all those who helped the Institute survive the “Blizzard of ’78.” The storm, which began on Registration Day, February 6, immobilized the state — and especially the Boston area — for a full week, and classes did not begin meeting until the following Monday, February 13. Some employees of the Institute found themselves snowed in at M. I. T. — a few were to spend the week there. Others, indeed most, were snowed out. Nevertheless, paths and campus roadways which had been blocked beyond the capacity of normal snow-removal equipment were reopened, floods were cleaned up, emergencies were seen to, nearly 3, 000 resident students were fed, libraries and athletic facilities were opened, and the Institute, and those members of the community who did three weeks work in seven days, survived in fine style. Much is owed to the heroic efforts of those who carried on under extraordinarily difficult conditions. Included in this group were physical plant employees, telephone operators, members of the Campus Patrol, the dining staff, nurses and doctors, administrative staff, and many students and faculty. Because of the strenuous efforts of all those who labored without regard to time or the nature of the task (including the overnight launching of a suburbs-to-M. I. T. shuttle bus system), we were able to carry on under extremely difficult circumstances, and we wish to take this occasion to express once again our gratitude to all who helped.

Report of the President and the Chancellor 1977-78, 19.

Photographs of the suburbs-to-MIT shuttle system can be found in the records of Vice President Constantine B. Simonides (AC-0276). Tim the Beaver can be spotted in the photographs displaying signage for the shuttle buses.

Photographs of bus routes being employed following the Blizzard of `78

A collage of photographs showing the aftermath of the Blizzard of ’78. Shuttle buses were used to help employees travel to campus from the suburbs. (AC-0276, box 28)

Additional reporting and images from the storm can be found in issues of The Tech from February 7, 1978, and February 10, 1978.

Chris Tanguay