King Collection index now online for public

Published 7:42 am Wednesday, January 14, 2009

ATLANTA — Scholars and armchair academics alike can now browse an online listing of thousands of documents in the Martin Luther King Jr. Collection that further pull back the curtain on King’s life as a preacher and a person, officials at Morehouse College announced on Tuesday.

Martin Luther King Jr. Collection Listing:

Archivists have spent nearly two years cataloguing and digitizing the collection, which is housed at Morehouse, where King graduated in 1948. Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin led an 11th-hour campaign to buy the papers in a $32 million private sale in 2006 that thwarted a public auction to be held at Sotheby’s in New York.

Morehouse President Robert Franklin called the collection a “powerful tool” for education and insight into King’s life as a man, theologian and activist.

“There is a wealth of transformative knowledge that we have yet to glean from Dr. King,” Franklin said.

The school touts the papers as “the most comprehensive collection of King’s personal writings and books spanning from 1946 to 1968.” About 7,000 pieces are handwritten items, such as the “I Have a Dream” speech, the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize and nearly 100 sermons from the 1950s and 1960s — including some never before published or studied.

The collection also includes items ranging from canceled checks, a term paper King wrote as a student at Morehouse and a well-developed draft of “The Drum Major Instinct” sermon, which he delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on Feb. 4, 1968, two months before his assassination.

An online guide to the items was made public on Tuesday. The collection itself is available for research on computer for visitors to the Robert W. Woodruff Library at the Atlanta University Center. Many of the documents are also expected to be the centerpiece of the city’s Center for Civil and Human Rights, scheduled to open in 2010.

Also on Tuesday, Morehouse named Clayborne Carson as distinguished professor and executive director of the collection. Carson — a King scholar who was tapped by King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, to edit and publish his papers in 1985 — is the founding director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University, where he also teaches in the history department.

He said the task in an enormous and exciting responsibility.

“This is a wonderful day for me, and an important day for the King legacy,” Carson said. “These are largely new materials, that can provide new windows into the life of a person we thought we knew well. We have only begun to educate people about King.”

Carson said he plans to focus on King’s significance as a world leader, to organize a series of seminars dedicated to discussing the meaning of the King legacy and to help young people explore constructive solutions to global issues.

Carson will retain his positions at Stanford as professor and director of the King Research and Education Institute. In his role at Morehouse, Carson will develop programming for public education and scholarly access to the collection, and teach a seminar, “The Life and Thought of Martin Luther King Jr.”

Shawn Crosby, a freshman at Morehouse from Ohio, is considering taking the seminar next semester. The 18-year-old said he planned to search the collection later Tuesday at the library and looked forward to what he might learn from the documents.

“Dr. King was a really big reason for why I came to Morehouse,” Crosby said. “I got misty-eyed reading the Nobel Peace Prize draft. Looking at it (online), I felt like I was there with him.”