Founder's Vision

Announcement of The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Center January 15, 1969

Today my husband would have been forty years old. Under ordinary circumstances this might be considered an occasion for nothing more than sentimentality and tears. But Martin Luther King, Jr. was no ordinary man, and these are not ordinary circumstances. So, while sentiment indeed runs deeply within me at this moment, I am gratified to say that the stirring winds of excitement, anticipation and profound sense of fulfillment have triumphed over tears. For it is my privilege and pleasure to announce today the creation of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Center here in Atlanta.

I do this with pride because we as members of the family are convinced that this newly established center will seek with integrity to extend Martin Luther King’s best hopes and deeds. What we see beginning now is no dead monument, but a living memorial filled with all the vitality that was his, a center of human endeavor, committed to the causes for which he lived and died.

This official Memorial Center will be developed here in my husband’s native city, but it will be for men and women everywhere. It will, like Martin Luther King, emerge proudly out of the heart of the Black experience in America, but it will address the experiences of all people, especially those who are broken and oppressed, those who desperately search for justice, liberation and peace. In all of its parts, the Memorial will attempt to meet with uncompromising insistence the problems and needs which face Black people today; then by these very pathways of specific concerns, the Memorial Center will continue Martin Luther King, Jr.’s never-ceasing ministry to the world and all of its largest, urgent needs.

It is our intention that the Center will rise out of two different locations in the city; for both sites are necessary to tell the story of Martin Luther King, Jr. On Auburn Avenue, we expect to restore his birthplace and continue the life of Ebenezer Baptist Church, his spiritual home. Together with these, in a memorial park, we plan to locate his final place of entombment, and build as well a living, open Freedom Hall which will tell for many generations the story of the Movement which he led.

The second part of the Memorial complex will develop in the vicinity of the Atlanta University community. It will include an institute for Non-Violent Social Change, an Institution for Afro-American Studies, and a Museum of Afro-American Life and Culture. Because the goal is to achieve the beloved community through the process of nonviolent social change, the technique and philosophy which characterized the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., it is our hope that this spirit will permeate the whole experience of the Memorial Center. We hope to make available to students, scholars, artists, and activists many opportunities to explore the Black vibrant roots of the people who produced a Martin Luther King, Jr. At the same moment we invite all who come here to enter in the search for those creative ways in which the future of this people and all peoples may be liberated from oppression and fear, set free for that great earthly destiny to which God has surely called us all.

The place in which we meet today is a witness to the life that already characterizes the Center. This is the initial location of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library Project, a documentation center for the Freedom Movement in America. We have already begun to gather staff and develop programs for the Institute for Afro-American Studies. The Institute for Non-Violent and Social Change is currently under serious discussion, and the search has begun for a Director of that element of the center.

We recognize the magnitude of the task to which we have set ourselves. We are aware of the great financial resources it will demand. But we are also convinced that nothing less would do justice to the greatness of the man we honor, and I sincerely believe that men and women here and all over the world will come to our assistance as we move to realize this magnificent hope.

So, on Martin’s birthday, we set out on a tremendous adventure, and invite all of you to share it with us. For the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Center does more than pay homage to a man. It is an experiment in hope in a time of fear. It is an act of faith when men refuse to believe. It is a realist attempt to carry on the idealist’s fight, for which my husband lived and died, the fight or a world in which all men on this earth might one day be free—free at last.

“… The posture of his life has written on an epitaph that lives beyond the boundaries of death.” The words were spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, but they would be most fitting in a eulogy to Dr. King.

No one would dispute the fact that Dr. King died as much for human dignity and the rights of man as has any other person in the history of the country. Preaching and practicing a philosophy of nonviolence, he gave hope to millions of oppressed people. He preached nonviolence to a nation sick with violence, a nation that has witnessed the murders of President Kennedy, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, and four little girls attending church in Birmingham, Alabama. In a nation corrosive with alienation, he preached love and compassion. In a world embroiled in war, he preached and marched for peace.

Martin Luther King was a rare individual who was able to translate his lofty ideals into direct action and obtain solid results without violating the fundamental precepts by which he lived. He realized that ideals without action are like arrows without a bow—neither is of any use without the other. He was able to articulate noble goals and, while adhering to his basic principles of love and nonviolence, develop sound strategies capable of achieving those goals. From the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott in 1955 to Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968, where he was leading striking garbage workers, he stressed the need for nonviolence and passive resistance. He used economic boycotts, peaceful mass demonstrations, marches, and direct confrontation to lead Black and poor people in their struggle to obtain the legal rights accorded them by the American Constitution. He reaffirmed his belief in the nonviolent approach to resistance when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. At that time he said, “I conclude that this award… is profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of out time—the need for man to overcome oppression without resorting to violence and oppression.

In these difficult days, it is of utmost importance to remember this man who so capably blended idealism and action. The social complexities with which Martin Luther King, Jr, identified himself have not diminished since his death. Although the issues, the priorities, and the immediate problems are continuously shifting, much remains to be done. The barriers to justice and liberation have not been removed and still present are the problems of racial polarization, violence, hunger, poverty, and inequality. We need, therefore, to develop new and flexible strategies based upon the bed rock of Dr. King’s principles, but formed in such a way as to be able to deal with the ever-changing situation. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center is designed to meet these needs and to preserve his legacy. His wisdom, vision, and dream must not be forgotten because of neglect and inaction.

The need for such a center is obvious. On the one hand we are confronted with those who have despaired of ever achieving their high ideals. Believing that it is no longer possible to change the system, they have dropped out. On the other hand there are those who believe in immediate and often violent action. They have abandoned their principles and are acting without and solid philosophical base. A third group, falling somewhere between the two extremes, still believes in the possibility of change and has not forsaken belief in nonviolence. This group finds itself without leadership in articulating strategies and defining specific problem areas. The King Center will fill the immediate need of the latter group and, through its example and real achievement, serve as a magnet to pull back those at the extremes.

Mrs. Coretta Scott King, Founder