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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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Man's Struggle for Freedom

Sunday, June 25, 1967
Chicago, IL, Montgomery, AL, Mississippi (MS), Selma, AL, Wisconsin (WI)

The "Chicago Tribune" reviews Dr. King's book "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?"

Letter from J. T. Brooks to Dr. and Mrs. MLK

Monday, November 16, 1953
Montgomery, AL, Boston, MA, Alabama (AL), Massachusetts (MA), North Carolina (NC)

Dexter Avenue Baptist Church representative J. T. Brooks conveys the church's interest in considering Dr. King for the pastorate.

Transformed Nonconformists Sermon Outline

In this brief outline for a sermon based on Romans 12:2, Dr. King asserts that Christians are citizens of two worlds, those of time and eternity. They are in the world, but not of it. In a generation of the mass mind, they are called to live differently – to make history not be made by history. But nonconformity in itself is not good; there must be a mental transformation. The world is on the brink of moral and physical destruction and the need of the hour is for nonconformists to materialism, nationalism and militarism.

MLK Speech at NAACP Sponsored Rally for Civil Rights

Sunday, July 10, 1960
Los Angeles, CA, Georgia (GA), Washington, D.C.

Dr. King gives a speech in which he addresses a myriad of issues on the subject of civil rights.

Dr. Spock, Dr. King and Rev. Rice Marching Down 5th Ave. NYC. April 15, 1967

Saturday, April 15, 1967
New York (NY), New York, NY

This photo comes from the Benedict J. Fernandez "Countdown to Eternity" portfolio.
(Copyright: Benedict J. Fernandez)

Draft Introduction for "Why We Can't Wait"

Atlanta, GA, New York (NY), New York, NY, Birmingham, AL, Washington, D.C., Montgomery, AL

This document is a draft of the introduction for Dr. King's book, "Why We Can't Wait." Dr. King uses various African American children stories to explain that one cannot afford to wait for justice.

New Wine in New Bottles

Dr. King outlines a sermon he preached at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery on October 17, 1954. His text is Matthew 9:17. He compares new ideas to new wine, stating that an idea cannot progress if people are not ready to accept it; this is what it means for an idea to be before its time. New ideas require new structures to contain them. The same is true in our personal lives when we resolve to rid ourselves of bad habits.

MLK Remarks on Negro Press Week

Monday, February 10, 1958
FORMER SOVIET UNION / USSR, ALGERIA

In this transcribed radio address, Dr. King describes how future generations will remember the 20th century as a time where righteous people fought for social, economic, and political freedom. Dr. King also states that the African-American fight for true citizenship is not only a part of American heritage, but also the story of people everywhere who struggle for dignity and freedom. Dr. King made this radio address for Negro Press week a the request of Louisville Defender Editor and National Newspaper Publishers Association board member Frank Stanley.

Presidential Invitation to White House Luncheon

Tuesday, June 5, 1962
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Washington, D.C., CYPRUS

President Kennedy invites Dr. King to attend a White House Luncheon on the occasion of the visit of Archbishop Makarios, the President of the Republic of Cyprus.

MLK Memorandum on SCLC Direct Action Plans

Birmingham, AL, Montgomery, AL, Virginia (VA), New York (NY), Los Angeles, CA, Chicago, IL, Alabama (AL)

In this confidential memorandum, Dr. King outlines SCLC’s direct action program for Birmingham, Alabama and Danville, Virginia. For each community, he states the challenges, defines goals, and then provides detailed steps to be taken and also staff assignments. He promises to outline his plan for Montgomery, Alabama in a few days.

Excerpt from The Drum Major Instinct

This passage quotes one of Dr. King's acclaimed sermons delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He defines the desire to lead as "the Drum Major instinct." Seeing himself as a Drum Major for justice, peace, and righteousness, Dr. King posits what should be said at his funeral.

Telegram from Berry Gordy, Jr. to MLK

Detroit, MI, Michigan (MI)

President of Motown Record Corporation, Berry Gordy, Jr., awaits Dr. King's decision on the album, "The Great March on Washington."

NAACP Fight For Freedom Fund and Awards Dinner

Georgia (GA), Atlanta, GA, New York (NY), California (CA), Maryland (MD), Ohio (OH), Cincinnati, OH, Pennsylvania (PA), Tennessee (TN), Memphis, TN, Michigan (MI), Detroit, MI, Florida (FL), Kansas (KS), Illinois (IL), Chicago, IL, Washington, D.C., Washington (WA), New Jersey (NJ), Indiana (IN), Mississippi (MS), Albany, GA, Texas (TX), Missouri (MO)

Dr. King gives the address at the 1962 NAACP Fight for Freedom Fund and Awards Dinner held at Morehouse College. Coretta Scott King is the soloist.

Letter from an Asylum Inmate to MLK Seeking Assistance

Monday, May 29, 1967
Pennsylvania (PA), Philadelphia, PA, Georgia (GA), Hartford, CT, Connecticut (CT)

Paul Douglas Ware, an untried inmate, requests Dr. King's "understanding, moral support, and possible assistance." Mr. Ware informs Dr. King of detailed information regarding his unjust treatment, his personal life, his present state of mind and most importantly his desire to have a stronger bond with "his own people."

Sixth Grade Wisconsin Achievement Test Responses

Wisconsin (WI), Iowa (IA)

This is a collection of responses from sixth graders of average ability in a Wisconsin school. Although the instructions are not provided, it seems evident that the students were tasked to paraphrase the passage or, simply tell what the passage meant to them.

Response to Reasons Why African Americans Should Boycott Whitey's Olympics

Wednesday, February 28, 1968
LIBERIA, Chicago, IL

The writer responds to an article in The Post on why African Americans should boycott the Olympics. He believes that Negroes should return to Africa or form their own community in the US separate from whites. God did not intend whites and Negroes to live together, the author maintains, or would have made them the same color. Negroes should take responsibility for their own condition rather than blaming whites. test

March on Washington Address by Eugene Carson Blake

Wednesday, August 28, 1963
Washington, D.C., Illinois (IL), Virginia (VA)

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 Lyndon B. Johnson to MLK

Monday, May 18, 1964
Washington, D.C.

President Lyndon B. Johnson writes Dr. King, thanking him for sending him an advance copy of "Why We Can't Wait."

Letter from Joan Daves to Dora MacDonald

Tuesday, May 12, 1964
New York (NY), New York, NY

Joan Daves informs Dora MacDonald of the details for Dr. King's appearances on the Today Show, the Martha Dean Show, a Press Conference and a Channel 13 interview.

Letter from MLK to Attorney General Robert Kennedy

Tuesday, March 31, 1964
North Carolina (NC), Washington, D.C., Boston, MA

Dr. King writes to Attorney General Robert Kennedy requesting an investigation in Williamston, NC to relieve the Negro community from violence and "unconstitutional police action."

A Statement to the South and Nation

Mississippi (MS), Atlanta, GA, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Georgia (GA), HUNGARY, South Africa

This seemingly unexceptional document signifies the birth of the SCLC. Dr. King, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and Rev. C. K. Steele assembled a consortium of leaders in Atlanta following the end of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The Southern Leaders Conference on Transportation and Non-Violent Integration issued this statement that addresses the intimidation, discrimination and economic disparity Negroes face in the South. The statement appeals to the federal government to intervene against assaults that block basic civil rights.

Letter From Vice President Johnson to MLK

Friday, April 27, 1962
Washington, D.C., Atlanta, GA

Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson wrote this note to Dr. King to respectfully decline his invitation to a luncheon and to serve on the board of directors of the Gandhi Society for Human Rights. He states he enjoyed their last meeting and is looking forward to the next one.

Letter from Halevy H. Simmons to MLK

Wednesday, October 3, 1962
New York (NY), New York, NY, Atlanta, GA, Georgia (GA)

New York-based architect Halevy H. Simmons offers his professional services to rebuild Negro churches in the state of Georgia.These pillars of Negro culture were targeted throughout the state in a series of racially motivated hate crimes.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Tuesday, January 1, 1974
Georgia (GA), Atlanta, GA, California (CA), Los Angeles, CA, Washington, D.C., New York (NY), New York, NY

This document is regarding the celebration of the Birthday Anniversary of the late Dr. King. The author states, "While the national holiday legislation is pending in Congress, masses of people everywhere already personally declare the date to be their own to honor one of history's greatest leaders."

Which Way for the Negro Now?

Monday, May 15, 1967
California (CA), Nebraska (NE), Nashville, TN, Louisville, KY, New York, NY, Cleveland, OH, Baltimore, MD, Chicago, IL, Washington, D.C., Selma, AL, Montgomery, AL

In his thirteenth civil rights cover story, Newsweek General Editor Peter Goldman reports on a movement in crisis, with fragmented leadership, impatient black followers, and increasingly alienated white supporters. Goldman and reporters interviewed top leadership ranging from the Urban League’s Whitney Young to black power advocate Stokely Carmichael. This article asks what will become of the Negro Revolution.

Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution

Sunday, August 1, 1965
INDIA, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC, Alabama (AL), Mississippi (MS), Selma, AL, Birmingham, AL

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.

Telegram from MLK to Senator Robert Kennedy

Washington, D.C.

Dr. King praises Senator Kennedy's efforts toward abolishing the poll tax in state elections.

New Wine in Old Bottles

Sunday, January 2, 1966
Atlanta, GA

In a New Year's sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Dr. King addresses Matthew 9:17. His explains that new ideas or inspiration cannot thrive in closed minds or old structures, such as the idea of equality in a segregated society. While Victor Hugo's "idea whose time has come" may be here, Dr. King says, we need to "help time" and overcome the initial resistance to new ideas with persistence and a transformation of the old structures.

Sermon Introductions by MLK

Dr. King frames a series of introductions to sermons that includes such selections as Civilization's Great Need, Life Is What You Make It, and Why Religion?

Letter from SNCC Executive Committee to MLK

Sunday, March 7, 1965
Selma, AL, Alabama (AL)

John Lewis and Silas Norman of SNCC write Dr. King to address their organization's grievances with the SCLC, specifically the SCLC's lack of cooperation in the Selma Voting Rights campaign. Members of SNCC state their disagreement with the march planned for March 7, 1965 because "the objectives of the march do not justify the danger and the resources involved." Lewis and Norman request a meeting with Dr. King to discuss reconciliation between SNCC and the SCLC.