Honorary Degrees

Melnea A. Cass and Coretta Scott King are two of the first African American recipients of Northeastern honorary degrees.

In the spring commencement of 1969 at the age of 72, Melnea A. Cass was awarded the Doctor of Humanities degree. Referred to as Roxbury’s First Lady and Elder Stateswoman, Mrs. Cass was influential and active within the Boston community. She sat on the Mayor’s Citizen’s Advisory Committee on Minority Housing and held membership in the Freedom House.

A firm supporter of civil rights, Mrs. Cass served as president of the Boston branch of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People and for more than ten years held the position of secretary of the United South End Settlements. She also was vice president of the Harriet Tubman House and vice president and eventually president of the northeast region’s National Association of Colored Women’s Club. Her devotion to the community was recognized by several awards including the first Leslie B. Cutler Award for community service.

One of the university’s most notable honorary degree recipients is Coretta Scott King on June 20, 1971. As a leader in peace and civil rights not only did Mrs. King lead the list of ten honorary degree recipients, but she also served as the ceremony’s keynote speaker. In the Boston Garden, Mrs. King addressed more than 4,000 Northeastern graduates and approximately 15,000 invited guests.

After the death of her husband, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mrs. King increased her involvement within the movement. She produced the Freedom Concert, a performance that combined prose, poetry, and music in order to present the history of the civil rights movement. Mrs. King also was a member of the Board of Directors of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and wrote the national best seller, My Life with Martin Luther King Jr. (Holt Rinehart and Winston, 1969).

"Coretta King will address seniors"
Mrs. King Delivering the 1971 Commencement Address
Coretta Scott King receives her honorary degree from President Knowles with escort Donald B. Guy.
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