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Spotlights

There are nearly a million documents associated with the life of Martin Luther King Jr. These pages will present a more dynamic view than is often seen of Dr. King’s life and times. The documents reveal the scholar, the father, and the pastor. Through these papers we see the United States of America at one of its most vulnerable, most honest and perhaps most human moments in history. There are letters bearing the official marks of royalty and the equally regal compositions of children. You will see speeches, telegrams, scribbled notes, patient admonitions and urgent pleas. This spotlight shows you a glimpse of the remarkable history within this collection.

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Letter From Birmingham City Jail

Wednesday, May 1, 1963

Dr. King's famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail" is a response to a statement written by several Alabama Clergymen. In that statement, the Clergymen assert that Dr. King's methods are both "unwise and untimely." They brand him an "outside agitator" who should not be advocating the breaking of the law. Dr. King responds with this Letter and politely references Biblical, Classical and early American figures to counter the arguments of the Clergymen.

Copyright Agreement for MLK’s Nobel Lecture

This is the Copyright Assignment Agreement established between Dr. King and the Nobel Foundation.

Letter from Chauncey Eskridge to David Acton

Tuesday, November 21, 1967

This letter from Chauncey Eskridge to David Acton request the Leeds & Northrup Foundation provide a grant to the Southern Christian Leadership Foundation. Chauncey Eskridge includes a tax exempt letter and a copy of the trust instrument outlining the creation of the Southern Christian Leadership Foundation. Both Dr. King and Mr. Bernard Jackson received a copy of this letter.

Bold Design for a New South

Saturday, March 30, 1963

Dr. King notes that civil rights has been replaced as the "Number One" domestic issue, dwarfed by the Cuban missile crisis, trade legislation and tax reform. He attributes this to public acceptance of tokenism as well as an overly cautious administration. While acknowledging that the administration has made greater efforts on civil rights than previous ones, Dr. King says the progress is constricted and confined.

MLK Draft Text Retrieved by T.D. Johnston

The document is a dedication from T. D. Johnston of Huntsville, Alabama to the King Center. Mr. Johnston acknowledges being on an Eastern Airline plane with Dr. King in 1961, where he noticed that Dr. King tossed a speech text that he found. He decided to hold on to the document for preservation and donated it to the King Center. Martin Luther King, III received the document on behalf of the King Center.

March on Washington Address by Eugene Carson Blake

Wednesday, August 28, 1963

Rev Dr. Eugene Carson Blake, Vice Chairman of the Commission on Religion and Race of the National Council of Churches, addresses the March on Washington. He states that if all the clergy and church members he represents and all of the Roman Catholics and Jews in America were marching for jobs and freedom for Negroes, the battle for civil rights would be won. Despite the pronouncements of the religious community, the churches and society are still segregated. “Late, late we come,” he says, and in a repentant and reconciling spirit.

Letter from Bible Student to MLK

The bible student who wrote this letter used biblical references to justify segregation and to persuade Dr. King to cease civil rights demonstrations.

An Open Letter to Free Americans

In response to Dr. King's assassination, the author urges "Free Americans" to join the fight against racism.

Letter from United States Congress to MLK

Friday, September 22, 1967

Joseph McDade writes Dr. King to solicit his views regarding the affects of organized crime on the plight of the urban poor.

Campaign for a World Constitution Leaflet

This pamphlet announces a World Constitutional Convention to be held in Switzerland. Dr. King, who was among the signers of a "Call for a Constitutional Convention," is quoted in the leaflet stating that a world government would lessen tensions.

The Other America

Sunday, March 10, 1968

Dr. King delivered this speech, "The Other America," for the Local 1199 Salute to Freedom program. The speech emphasized the need to address poverty, the Vietnam War, and race relations in America.

Letter from MLK to Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa

Monday, April 12, 1965

Dr. King thanks James Hoffa, President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, for his organization's $25,000 contribution to the SCLC. Dr. King explains the current works and beliefs of the SCLC and also stresses the importance of supporters like the Teamsters.

Letter from Andrew Heiskell to MLK

Tuesday, July 25, 1967

Mr. Heiskell extends an invitation for Dr. King to join Mayors of major cities and other national leaders in forming a coalition to address urban problems.

Letter from Stuart E. Atkinson to the SCLC

Stuart E. Atkinson sends a donation to the SCLC and requests the address to which he should send donated clothing and toys.

Nobel Peace Prize Dinner Program

Monday, January 27, 1964

The citizens of Atlanta held a recognition dinner on January 27, 1965 to honor Dr. King for his Nobel Peace Prize. Tributes were offered by Mayor Ivan Allen, Jr., AME Bishop Ernest Hickman, Rev. Edward Driscoll of the Georgia Council of Churches, State Senator Leroy Johnson, and Roman Catholic Archbishop Paul Hallinan. Dr. King gave the address.

Donation from United States Trust Company

Tuesday, February 6, 1968

Franklin D. Roosevelt III arranges to have one thousand dollars sent to the SCLC.

Civil-Righters Isolation

Saturday, April 1, 1967

David Lawrence states that the recent initiatives of Negro leaders are hindering the overall mission of the Civil Rights Movement. He believes that Negro groups are defeating their own cause.

SCLC Action Committee Meeting

Sunday, February 11, 1968

This critical 2-day strategy meeting of key SCLC staff takes place 2 months prior to the projected start of the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, DC. Dr. King expresses concern that they have not met their target goals for participation. Debate ensues about whether to call off the campaign or push it to a later date, and also whether SCLC should abandon all of its other commitments to ensure the success of this project. Problems and solutions are discussed. Staff assignments made for recruitment of the poor, materials, organizational structure, tentative plan of action, D.C.

Program for the SCLC Mass Meeting

Wednesday, October 1, 1958

This program is for a SCLC Mass Meeting that took place, at the Norfok Municipal Auditorium, on October 1, 1958.

Norwegian Peace Initiative

Friday, January 6, 1967

Five Norwegians concerned about the Vietnam conflict propose that winners of the Nobel Peace Prize form a negotiating delegation to visit the US and Hanoi governments.

Miss Mahalia Jackson in Concert

Sunday, December 1, 1963

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference presents Miss Mahalia Jackson in concert, marking "another milestone in her personal dedication to the drive for complete freedom for all humanity."

Speech to the Synagogue Council of America

Sunday, December 5, 1965

Dr. King receives the Judaism and World Peace Award from the Synagogue Council of America and uses the occasion to speak about the Civil Rights Movement and international peace. He laments the vehement criticism of dissent and discussion of the Vietnam War and enumerates reasons why the Hebrew prophets are so needed today.

Letter from Benjamin Mays to MLK

Friday, November 29, 1963

Dr. Benjamin E. Mays writes to Dr. King shortly after President Kennedy's assassination to urge him to take precautions.

Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution

Sunday, August 1, 1965

Dr. King delivers the commencement address at Oberlin College in Ohio on June 14, 1965. Nothing is more tragic, he says, than sleeping through a significant period of social change by failing to adopt the new mental attitudes that the new situation demands. He suggests that to remain awake through a great revolution one must embrace a global perspective and work for peace, racial justice, economic justice and brotherhood throughout the world.

Proposal for Preventing Denial of the Right to Vote

Thursday, October 29, 1964

William L. Higgs proposes that the Democratic Caucus in the US Senate adopt a resolution that no Democratic Senator shall become chairman of a Senate Standing Committee if his seat was won in an election where there was substantial denial of the right to vote based on race. In Mississippi only 6% of eligible Negroes are registered to vote, yet US Senator James Eastland chairs the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee that considers legislation regarding the right to vote and also the appointment of judges charged with enforcing those laws.

A Look To The Future

Monday, September 2, 1957

For the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Highlander Folk School, Dr. King delivers the speech "A Look To The Future." He uses a timeline to explain the adversities African Americans endured to gain recognition as American citizens. He also points out the efforts of the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens Councils to make African Americans second class citizens. Lastly, Dr. King points out that America should be more maladjusted in order to avoid failing to cope with the demands of the normal social environment.

Draft of Dedication Page for "Why We Can't Wait"

This document is a rough draft of the dedication page of Dr. King's book "Why We Can't Wait;" the draft reveals Dr. King's wish for his children.

A Tough Mind and A Tender Heart

Sunday, August 30, 1959

An early foreshadowing of his nonviolent philosophy, Dr. King advises Negroes of a particular course of action they should adhere to in order to properly equip themselves to combat racial injustice. Seeking to avoid both complacency and hostility, he challenges those who desire self-satisfaction, as well as those who seek to pacify their oppressors, by proposing the idea of one having both a tough mind and a tender heart.

Catholic Interracial Council Newsletter Honoring MLK

Sunday, March 7, 1965

This 1965 newsletter from the Catholic Interracial Council honors Dr. King with the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award.