California Institute of Technology student Thomas Jovin hosted King’s 25-27 February 1958 visit to the campus.1 In a 7 May 1959 letter Jovin, who had been elected student body president, asked King’s advice on recruiting black students to Caltech.
Mr. Tom Jovin
On returning to the office after a rather lengthy speaking tour, I was very happy to find your letter on my desk. I still remember with pleasant thoughts the moments that I spent on the campus of Caltech.
It is very heartening to know that you are greatly concerned about the fact that there are no colored undergraduate students at Caltech. This is certainly a manifestation of your genuine goodwill and your basic humanitarian concern.
Certainly, I can understand some of the reasons that Negro students are not presently in the student body of Caltech. The two reasons that you listed in your letter are probably foremost.2 On the other hand, I am sure that there are several Negro students around the country who could qualify and who would be interested if the proper approach is made. I would suggest that you seek to develop some type of scholarship program which would assist Negro students in their tuition, and then follow through with a recruiting program in some of the more advanced Negro high schools in the South and other sections of the country. I think your idea of a summer visitation program is very good indeed. So often Negro students are not in some of the major institutions of learning because no determined effort has been made to get them. And there is always the unconscious fear that they are not wanted. Once the ice is broken, however, it is not difficult to get students to continue to come.
As I travel around the country I will certainly keep this matter in the forefront of my mind. If I run across promising students who are academically qualified for studies at Caltech I will certainly encourage them to apply.
Again, let me express my appreciation to you for your interest at this point. I am sure that something meaningful will come out of it.
Give my best regards to all of my friends on the campus. You have my best wishes for a most profitable visit to India and the Far East.3 I have just returned from India after a month’s visit and it was certainly one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
Very sincerely yours,
Martin L. King, Jr.
1. Jovin to King, 23 January 1958. Thomas M. Jovin (1939- ), born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, received a B.S. (1960) from the California Institute of Technology. In 1964, he received an M.D. from Johns Hopkins University and later became the chairman of the department of molecular biology at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Gottingen, Germany.
2. In his 7 May letter, Jovin had suggested that the “failing lies in the fact that our tolerance, though real, is of a distinct passive nature.” He also noted that most people attributed the absence of black students to the school’s competitive admissions standards and that most “qualified colored students” regard “their chances of admission and financial support to be poor.”
3. Jovin’s letter concluded by noting that he had received a summer travel grant.
MLKP-MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Boston University, Boston, Mass.