Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. believed in excellence. He had an excellent mind which he disciplined through study and which he then applied to changing American society.SHIRLEY ANN JACKSON '68, PhD '73 (Physics)- First African-American woman PhD at MIT
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology established the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professor Program to enhance and recognize the contributions of outstanding scholars. The program honors the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by increasing the presence of minority scholars at MIT.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Visiting Professors and Scholars enhance their scholarship through intellectual interactions with MIT peers and enrich the intellectual life of the Institute with their participation in MIT research and academic programs.
Scholars are expected to be deeply engaged in the life of the Institute through teaching, research and other scholarly interactions with the MIT community. Their presence gives them the opportunity to make a significant impact on the growth and awareness of undergraduate and graduate students, as well as the MIT community as a whole.
Appointments as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Visiting Professors have been in all of MIT’s academic areas of Architecture, Engineering, Humanities, Management and Science. Appointments will also be considered in the fields of medicine, law and public service, where individuals of high distinction can add significantly to the intellectual life of the Institute through special subject offerings and interactions with students interested in pursuing such professions.
While most Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Visiting Professors are from colleges and universities, appointments will also be considered from individuals from public and private organizations outside of academia. [view flyer]
MIT began its annual commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1975, seven years after his assassination. The memorial activities featured a breakfast or dinner and lectures by prominent speakers. Martin Luther King Day was designated an Institute holiday in 1976, a decade before its first official observance as a federal holiday. These public events paved the way for bringing several visiting professors across disciplines to campus each academic year.
In 1988, MIT appointed a committee chaired by Professor Michael Feld of the Physics Department (and who happened to be 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 scholar was Dr. Henry C. McBay (1990-91), 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.
Henry C. McBay: A Chemical Festschrift (MIT Press, 1994) documents the proceedings of a symposium in his honor as the Institute’s first MLK Scholar, with an opening biographical chapter by science historian and MIT professor Kenneth R. Manning.
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).
Comments from Former Scholars