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Thursday, April 16, 2015

50 Years Ago - Wellesley Class of 1966 Elected MLK "Honorary Member"

Invitation to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to become an
"honored member" of the Wellesley Class of '66.
In January, Wellesley College hosted the 15th annual Martin Luther King breakfast.

No mention was made in the write-up of the event, which included singing by the Wellesley Choral Society, that this month will be the 50th Anniversary of an election by the Class of 1966.

This election made the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. an "Honorary Member" of the Wellesley Class of 1966.

We have a record of the "heartfelt" invitation on January 26, 1966 from Zoe Sarbanes, President of the Wellesley Class of 1966.

The vote of the class was apparently taken "last spring", i.e., approximately in April 1965.

Martin Luther King's draft response.
We also have a record of his acceptance of the honor, on yellow-lined paper, addressed to "Miss [Louisa] Knight", who must have sent a followup letter asking for his response.

He apologizes for the delay in his response. MLK says:
I am indeed honored in having been elected an honorary member of the Wellesley Class of 1966. This is an admirable tribute to the American Negro and our struggles for freedom and equality. Consequently, if it is not too late, I would be proud to accept such a tribute. It is an honor for both myself and the staff of the S.C.L.C. which works so diligently and patiently to support me in our struggle for freedom. I am grateful to the students of Wellesley College for having bestowed such an honor upon me. This support is both heartening and encouraging.
So:
  • He was elected by the Class of 1966, 50 years ago - April 1965.
  • He was invited twice in 1966, by the Class President and another classmate, Louisa Knight (Vice President? Secretary?).
  • Then he drafted an acceptance, some time in (probably) April 1966.
But no one remembers him coming to the Wellesley graduation. Was his acceptance typed up and mailed out to Louisa Knight? Was it too late to work him into the Wellesley Commencement program? Is there a story here buried in some file?