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Boston University's King Center for All Races, Ethnic Groups

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 9, 1998 – The Martin Luther King Jr. Center at Boston University evolved from riots and disturbances following King's assassination on April 4, 1968, said Mable L. Millner, director of the university's Multicultural Affairs Office.

The university created the center in October 1968. "It has since broadened from being a specific site for African-American students to [one] encompassing all of the university's more then 28,000 undergraduate and graduate students," Millner said.

King earned a doctorate in divinity from Boston University in 1955. The university is also the guardian of more than 83,000 pieces of King's papers -- the largest collection of writings by the slain civil rights leader outside the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta.

"Dr. King donated his manuscripts, records and personal papers to the university in 1964, the year he received the Nobel Peace Prize," Millner said. "The collection is open and available to the public for research and enlightenment."

The center grew out of the turmoil of the late 1960s. "Like many university campuses at the time, a lot of riots and other forms of aggression took place on our campus," Millner said. "More than 200 African-American students presented the administration several demands and terms to make the university more responsive to black needs."

Initially, the university was slow to respond, she noted. "So on April 25, 1968, the students seized the administration building and held officials there until their demands were met," Millner said. "Their demands included recruiting more African-American students, increasing financial assistance for African-American students, increasing African-American faculty and staff.

They also demanded the creation of a center to support the African-American student community."

Consequently, Millner said, the Martin Luther King Jr. Center was one of the first African-American centers in the country established on a predominately white university campus.

"The center's goal was to provide a place on campus where African-American students could congregate, interact and support one another through various social and cultural programs and academic support services," Millner said.

The center housed a 1,000-volume library and a collection of African-American artifacts, including recorded albums, newspapers, tapes [and] research papers on the African-American experience, she said.

The King center evolved over time into offices for all student support services. "Throughout its history, the King center has sponsored cultural programs inviting leaders in the African-American community, from politics, government, the arts and other fields to campus for open forums," Millner said. The university also sponsors an annual convocation in memory of King on the national holiday. The program includes speakers, gospel singing, and readings and presentations of King's works by students, faculty, administrators and invited guests from the Boston area.

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