Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a significant impact on both students and faculty at BC, from his assassination to the present day.
Although Martin Luther King, Jr. is the pride of rival Boston University where he received his doctorate, he has had a long history of coverage in Boston College’s newspaper of record, including The Heights’ reprinting one of his articles in an issue from the ’50s.
In the April 9, 1968 issue after King was killed, The Heights ran a front-page editorial beginning, “There is darkness in this country. It has begun to grow and permeate beyond the separation it defines between the races of the American nation. Its power has been displayed in the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”
Campus faculty and administrators were unsure of how to respond to the assassination. Rev. Charles Donovan, S.J. opposed the idea of cancelling classes “because he feared giving an impression of panic” according to the article from that issue.
Finally, after meeting with students, faculty, and administrators, Donovan decided to cancel classes. Rev. F.X. Shea, S.J. had marched in Selma with King and held a mass to eulogize him, afterward telling the congregation to attend a demonstration in Boston, proving his effect on not only students but also administrators at BC.
In a letter to the editor from 1981, Michelle Ilene Osterfeld criticized the lack of attendance by students and administrators at a memorial event for King. Osterfeld described signing a petition for a national holiday at that event.
“But as I did, I shunned to think that all another holiday means (no matter how profound the cause) is a sale day at the great American department stores,” she wrote.
On Feb. 1, 1983, BC held an ecumenical service in honor of King. The dinner speaker at this event, the second annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Celebration, was Rev. Robert F. Drinan, S.J., BC ’42, at that point a former congressman.
The following week, The Heights ran an article detailing a speech by then-trustee Wayne Budd, BC ’63, who is now a senior vice president and general counsel of John Hancock Financial Services.
Budd warned that the pendulum was swinging away from the gains made by civil rights legislation in the ’60s and ’70s.
“One does not hear talk of discrimination these days,” he said. “Instead we hear of reverse discrimination. Was all of Martin Luther King’s work in vain?”
An event listing from the Feb. 3, 1986 issue describes Al Eaton recreating the speeches of King in “One Man Play of the Life and Times of Dr. Martin Luther, King Jr.,” which was held in Robsham Theatre. The production was sponsored by the Black Student Forum, and tickets were sold for just $2 each.
In the Jan. 17, 1990 issue, Heights news editor Bill Murphy wrote a commentary entitled, “King’s dream lives on to the ’90s.”
The commentary focused on how King would be concerned with issues of three million homeless people in the U.S. at that time, the escalating arms race, and continued racism during the ’90s, including in the controversial Charles Stuart case of that time.
An article from Jan. 19, 1995 focused on the life of King in recognition of the fact that some students may have forgotten the reason behind their extra day of winter break that year.
Sometimes a standalone photo was enough to tell the story of King’s legacy. There is a photo from the April 6, 1998 issue of The Heights detailing a gathering of students and faculty for a memorial in the former Dustbowl to commemorate the 30th anniversary of King’s death.
Six years ago, in 2008, the department of Campus Ministry hosted “Rise Up,” a gathering on Jan. 21 of that year to honor King with performances from musical groups such as Against the Current, the Liturgy Arts Group, and Voices of Imani.
Recently, King’s name came up when students discussed an annual scholarship given in his name at the University.
According to a 2002 article about that year’s recipient, Rufus Caine, BC ’03, “every year the award is given to an African-American junior who ‘exemplifies the ideals of Dr. King through academic excellence and community service,’ according to Rev. Walter Conlan, S.J., co-chairperson of the MLK Memorial Committee.”
In 1983, the Jesuits at BC made a $20,000 donation to the scholarship’s fund.
“The generosity of the Jesuit community cannot be over-emphasized,” then-AHANA Director and Co-Chairman of the King Scholarship committee Donald Brown said. “One might say that this event has opened a new chapter in the relationship that exists between the Jesuit and AHANA communities.”