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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 MLK to Attorney General Robert Kennedy

Tuesday, March 31, 1964

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."

MLK Postcard - American Negro Emancipation Centennial

Wednesday, January 1, 1964

The American Negro Emancipation Centennial issued this 1964 postcard containing Dr. King's brief biography. The postcard was designed to be used as a study guide in Negro history.

Telegram from Ralph Abernathy to John F. Kennedy

Thursday, June 13, 1963

Rev. Ralph Abernathy accepts President John F. Kennedy’s invitation to meet and discuss the civil rights problem.

Civil Rights Act of 1957

Monday, September 9, 1957

The Civil Rights Act was signed into law on September 9, 1957 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Commonly referred to as the Civil Rights Act of 1957, this was the first such federal law since Reconstruction. The law was aimed at ending voter discrimination tactics such as poll taxes and literacy tests, but it also created the Civil Rights Commission to ensure proper administration of the law.

Letter from A. Phillip Randolph to MLK

Tuesday, April 7, 1964

Mr. Randolph addresses his concerns with current events that could potentially harm the Civil Rights Movement. His list of developments includes Malcolm X's promotion of rifle clubs, the use of propaganda tactics to separate white people from the Civil Rights Movement, the increasing totalitarian influence on protest groups in northern cities and demagogic leadership that creates confusion and frustration. Mr. Randolph requests a meeting to discuss how to address these issues.

Transcript of National Educational Television's For Freedom Now

Tuesday, July 23, 1963

For Freedom Now, with host Dr. Kenneth Clark, is television’s first exchange of ideas by the leaders of five organizations engaged in securing full civil rights for Negroes. Featured guests are Dr. King of SCLC, Whitney Young of the National Urban League, James Farmer of CORE, James Forman of SNCC, and Roy Wilkins of the NAACP.

Which Way for the Negro Now?

Monday, May 15, 1967

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.

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.

Who They are and Why They Struck

This article stresses the unfair treatment of twenty-two Claussen Bakery workers. This article also addresses why the workers went on strike.

Donation Slip with Criticism of MLK

A former contributer to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference criticized Dr. King on top of this donation slip.

MLK Remarks on Negro Press Week

Monday, February 10, 1958

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.

SCLC Press Release, Poor People's Campaign

Monday, March 4, 1968

In this press release intended for the American public and media outlets, Dr. King argues that the country is "splitting into two hostile societies and the chief destructive cutting force is white racism." The SCLC President asserts that the federal government fails to eradicate social ills, like poverty, unless it is "confronted directly and massively." Henceforth, the nonviolent April 1968 Poor People's Campaign is intended to serve as the "final victory over racism and poverty."

Appeal from Wyatt Tee Walker for Albany Support

Wednesday, July 25, 1962

Following the arrests of Dr. King and three others who held a prayer vigil at the Albany, Georgia City Hall, Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker issues this appeal for support from those active in the civil rights movement. He calls for telegrams to be sent to federal, state, and local officials, prayer vigils, and the wearing of black armbands.

Epitaph for a First Lady: Eleanor Roosevelt

Upon the death of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Dr. King wrote this epitaph, calling her "a symbol of world citizenship." In addition, Dr. King commends Mrs. Roosevelt for her commitment to humanity.

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.

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?

An Interview With MLK

A young student from Towns Elementary School in Atlanta interviews Dr. King for a class assignment. The student asks important questions relating to Dr. King's family background, career in ministry and his influence in the civil rights movement. When asked about being the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. King responds by saying, "It is more of a tribute to the thousands of gallant people who have participated in the struggle for equality, and who have done it in a peaceful, courageous manner."

MLK Memorandum on SCLC Direct Action Plans

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.

Letter From Birmingham City Jail

Wednesday, May 1, 1963

This version of Dr. King's "Letter From Birmingham Jail," published by the American Friends Service Committee, also includes the original statement made by the clergyman that prompted Dr. King's response. The eight clergymen described Dr. King's actions as "unwise and untimely." In his response, Dr. King references biblical and historical figures to illustrate why the Civil Rights Movement can no longer wait. He also expresses his frustration with many within organized religion and the moderate white American.

Letter from Marie L. Jones Regarding Reverend Ashton Jones

Wednesday, September 25, 1963

Mary L. Jones sent out this letter reporting on the plight of her husband, Reverend Ashton Jones, who was arrested in July of 1963 for attempting to lead an interracial student group into a service at the segregated First Baptist Church of Atlanta. Reverend Jones was sentenced to a year in the Georgia state prison and six months of hard labor for the crime of "disturbing a worship service." Mrs. Jones encourages readers of her letter to heed the advice of British social critic Bertrand Russell, by writing an "avalanche of letters" to those responsible.

How My Theology Has Changed

Dr. King highlights seven main ways in which his theological views have changed since his final year at Crozer Theological Seminary.

What is Man?

Sunday, January 12, 1958

Citing views from historical and contemporary figures, Dr. King asserts that the definition of "man" lies somewhere between God and an animal. Dr. King contends that, although man is limited by time and space, humans are not animals, because they have the capacity for rational thought. However, the central theme that Dr. King argues is that humanity is inherently evil and must constantly strive for high moral standards.

Invitation to President Kennedy's Inauguration

This invitation was sent to Dr. and Mrs. King, inviting them to the inauguration ceremony of President-elect John F. Kennedy and Vice President-elect Lyndon B. Johnson.

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.

Letter from Joan Daves to Dora MacDonald

Tuesday, May 12, 1964

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.

Sermon at The Washington Cathedral

Sunday, March 31, 1968

In a sermon written by Dr. King and addressed to an audience at the Washington Cathedral, the Reverend expounds upon the problem of poverty and war. In describing a projected human revolution, Dr. King states, "Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability." This is just one of the many passages in this inspirational sermon encouraging hope and freedom for all.

Sixth Grade Wisconsin Achievement Test Responses

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.

Statement by MLK Regarding His Five-Day Jail Sentence in Birmingham

Monday, October 30, 1967

Dr. King releases a statement regarding his return to Birmingham, Alabama to serve a five-day jail sentence. He states that he is happy to serve the sentence, but sad that the Supreme Court did not "uphold the rights of individual citizens." He also questions why the United States' resources are being used to fund the Vietnam War rather than to help the poor.

Walk in Sympathy and Brotherhood

Monday, April 8, 1968

This is the itinerary for the Walk in Sympathy and Brotherhood to Dr. King's funeral site. A group of bereaved citizens from Northeast Atlanta organized this walk to express human solidarity.

SCLC Tenth Anniversary Convention

Monday, August 14, 1967

A program outlining the course of events for the 10th Anniversary Convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.