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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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People In Action: The Complete Life

Saturday, April 27, 1963

Dr. King was in jail in Birmingham and unable to contribute his regular column to the New York Amsterdam News. The editors published these excerpts from a sermon he had recently given at Riverside Church on "The Dimensions of a Complete Life."

Poster: This Store Is Against Equal Opportunities for Negroes

The SCLC placed this type of boycott poster on the storefronts of businesses that refused to provide equal job opportunities to Negroes.

Transcripts for Courses at Harvard University

Thursday, August 13, 1953

Lois Ryan forwards a transcript for two courses that Dr. King took while studying at Harvard University. These courses were Philosophy of Plate: Introductory and The Philosophy of Whitehead.

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.

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.

Letter from MLK to Coretta Scott King

Saturday, October 1, 1960

In an intimate letter to Mrs. King, Dr. King informs her of his recent arrival to the State Prison in Reidsville, Georgia. He urges her "to be strong in faith" as she is also pregnant with their third child at the time. He expresses his hope for a family visit that coming Sunday, and his desire to remain intellectually engaged during his four-month sentence.

SCLC Resolution on Afro-American Unity

Thursday, August 17, 1967

In this resolution approved at its Tenth Annual Convention, SCLC affirms the need for Afro-American unity. The organization commits to conduct regional unity conferences involving all sectors of the Negro community, hold Identity Workshops on history and culture, and develop economic and political power so that Negroes can own and control their own communities. The resolution concludes by affirming the importance of black spiritual power, economic power, and political power.

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.

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.

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.

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."

Letter from Ella Jackson to MLK

Monday, February 5, 1968

Miss Ella Jackson, a 7th grader, writes to Dr. King concerning his leadership and involvement in civil disobedience. She advises Dr. King to speak to someone in power, otherwise his actions will lead to war.

Telegram from President Kennedy to MLK

President John F. Kennedy applauds the work of Dr. King and the SCLC on the occasion of the organization’s Sixth Annual Convention.

NAACP Fight For Freedom Fund and Awards Dinner

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.

Draft of I Have a Dream

Wednesday, August 28, 1963

This version of Dr. King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech reveals important changes to ideas and phrases that Dr. King chose either to alter or omit completely the day he addressed the throng gathered before the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Dr. King's argument against the "normalcy" of bigotry remained a key message on the day he took the podium.

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.

Photo of MLK and Mr. David

Mr. David sends Dr. King a picture displaying the two outside a Jackson, Mississippi Holiday Inn.

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.

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?

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.

I've Been to the Mountaintop

Wednesday, April 3, 1968

Dr. King gave this address at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee the night before he was assassinated. He called for nonviolent protest and a boycott of Memphis area businesses in support of the Memphis Sanitation Workers strike. Conveying a sense of foreboding, he not only recounted a near-death experience when he was stabbed near the heart, but also spoke of the possibility of his own demise at the hands of those who opposed him.

Appeal to the President of the United States

Thursday, May 17, 1962

This document, prepared for the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, serves as a plea to President Kennedy and a legal brief. The plea is to use the centennial as an opportunity to "rededicate" the nation to the principles embedded in the Emancipation Proclamation; to make an executive order to end all statutory segregation and discrimination in the states; and to exercise full leadership protecting civil rights, including the use of force, if nonviolent methods fail.

Entering 1964: Toward Full Emancipation

Tuesday, December 17, 1963

In this draft of an article for the NY Amsterdam News, Dr. King asserts that the thrust of the Negro will increase toward full emancipation as they began the year 1964. Dr. King highlights the March on Washington where both Negroes and whites collectively demonstrated the need for self-respect and human dignity in the United States. He also elaborates on the technique of "selective patronage" to broaden the economic and employment opportunities for the African American community.

Ebenezer Baptist Church Apartment Complex

Wednesday, September 13, 1967

Ralph D. Abernathy informs Mr. J. Lafayette Morgan that he is unable to supply the information Mr. Morgan requested.

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.

I've Been To The Mountaintop

Wednesday, April 3, 1968

"I've Been to the Mountaintop" is the last speech Dr. King delivered. A day after making this address at the Masonic Temple in Memphis, Tennessee, he was assassinated on the balcony of his hotel room. Dr. King spoke of faith, nonviolent protest and his support of the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike. He urged both a march and a boycott against Memphis area businesses. Dr. King ended his speech by musing about his previous brush with death and other threats against him.

An Open Letter to Free Americans

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

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.

Postcard Congratulating MLK for Receiving the Nobel Prize

Louise Dekker-Brus congratulates Dr. King on the Nobel Peace Prize and writes that their newspaper says that, in King, America has its Joan of Arc.