Scene Again

Three years after Benjamin E. Mays ’20 delivered the last eulogy for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at Morehouse College, Coretta Scott King came to Bates to accept an honorary Doctor of Letters degree and speak to the Class of 1971 at Bates’s first outdoor Commencement.

Coretta Scott King, D.Lit. ’71, walks with the Rev. Frederick D. Hayes ’31, during the Commencement procession. Photograph courtesy of the Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library.

In her address, King noted that the graduates “are not acquainted with peace.” As children, “you saw us fire-hosed and dog-bitten in Birmingham, Alabama,” and throughout the ’60s, war “has been your constant companion.” She then praised the seniors for going into the world for the purpose of “making a life rather than making a living.”

King, who died Jan. 30, also paid tribute to Benjamin Mays’ loyalty to her husband.

“From the earliest days of the Struggle, until my husband’s last rites on the campus of Martin’s beloved Morehouse, Dr. Mays was at our side. The friendship, which he and my husband formed when Martin was a Morehouse student, grew, deepened, and ripened with the years….

“So I am happy this morning to be present at the alma mater of my friend and colleague. My happiness is doubled when I realize that in 1917, a period rife with the inherent inferiority of the black man and the inherent superiority of the white man, Bates College accepted a young black man from South Carolina and allowed that young man to emancipate himself and accept with dignity his own worth as a free man.

“I make bold to state that Dr. Mays is without a contemporary peer in the inspiration and motivation that he has given to thousands of young blacks, men in particular, in their quest for emancipation from the myths of racism.”