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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 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.

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.

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."

Telegram from Civil Rights Leaders to President Kennedy

Monday, September 16, 1963

Members of the SCLC and prominent civil rights leaders request an immediate conference with President John F. Kennedy regarding the 1963 Birmingham church bombing.

Letter from the TATTLER Staff to MLK

Tuesday, November 10, 1964

The TATTLER staff at Atlanta's Drexel Catholic High School congratulates Dr. King on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.

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.

SCLC Meeting Agenda

Dr. King notes agenda items to cover with the SCLC staff, including improving organization within the SCLC, finances and upcoming programs.

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.

Invitation to President Johnson's Inauguration

Dr. King receives an invitation to attend and participate in the Inauguration of President Lyndon B. Johnson and Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey.

Handwritten Thank You Letter From MLK

Dr. King expresses his gratitude for contributions made to the SCLC, and informs the reader of the results of recent studies regarding illegitimate birth rates among negroes as opposed to whites.

St. Augustine, Florida: 400 Years of Bigotry and Hate

The SCLC compiled and published this pamphlet about St. Augustine, Florida, describing a long history of racial discrimination and segregation supported by Northern tourism.

Telegram from Lawrence F. O'Brien to MLK

Thursday, August 5, 1965

Lawrence O'Brien, Special Assistant to President Johnson, invites Dr. King to the signing of the Voting Rights Act in Washington, D.C.

March on Washington Lincoln Memorial Program

Wednesday, August 28, 1963

This document outlines the program held at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Letter from MLK to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy

Wednesday, June 24, 1964

Dr. King describes Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy's efforts as "courageous" and "effective" in guiding Congress to establish the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

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.

Current Magazine

Thursday, August 1, 1963

This Current Magazine issue on racism in the U.S. features an article "Is Direct Action Necessary" by Dr. King, as well as pieces by James Meredith, James Reston, and others.

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.

New Wine in Old Bottles

Sunday, January 2, 1966

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.

Letter from Josephine Baker to MLK

Saturday, August 31, 1963

Josephine Baker expresses her admiration for Dr. King as a great leader and articulates her commitment to the Civil Rights Movement.

The False God of Money

Sunday, July 19, 1953

This sermon titled "The False God of Money" was preached by Dr. King on July 19, 1953. Dr. King raised a question to his congregation stating, "Will you serve the transitory god of money which is here today and gone tomorrow or will you serve the eternal God of the universe who is the same yesterday, today and forever?"

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 Robert J. McCracken to MLK

Tuesday, February 4, 1964

Rev. McCracken, of Riverside Church in New York, informs Dr. King that he is scheduled to speak at two identical church services. The Church has added the second service because the New York World?s Fair will be open.

MLK Examination Book for Bible Course

Tuesday, March 26, 1946

Dr. King answers a number of questions for an exam in his Bible course. He covers diverse topics, including prophecy and the Book of Job.

Letter from Richard Nixon to MLK

Tuesday, September 17, 1957

Vice President Nixon writes to Dr. King concerning the efficiency and effectiveness of the Civil Rights Bill. He expresses his gratitude for a previous correspondence from Dr. King and ensures his continued advocacy of civil rights legislation.

Draft Introduction for "Why We Can't Wait"

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.

MLK in Memoriam

Following Dr. King's assassination, this tribute highlights King's life and the impact he had on the world. It includes a reading from "The Negro American: A Documentary History," an audio recording of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream Speech" and his eulogy. test2

Flight Schedule for Coretta Scott King and Party

Tuesday, December 1, 1964

The Henderson Travel Service provides a detailed schedule of suggested flights for Coretta Scott King and others traveling to witness Dr. King receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

ABC's Issues and Answers: MLK Interview

Sunday, June 18, 1967

Dr. King sat down with Tom Jerriel, Atlanta Bureau Chief, and John Casserly, Washington Correspondent, of the American Broadcasting Company for their program "Issues and Answers." They discussed the civil rights movement, Dr. King's upcoming book, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that Dr. King would serve jail time in Birmingham.

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.

The Birth of a New Nation

Dr. King compares the ongoing civil rights struggle in the United States to the Hebrews' Exodus from Egypt.