Martin Luther King papers go online

1/16/2012 King Center in the Press

By Melanie Eversley, USA TODAY

There is the handwritten draft, complete with cross-outs, of Martin Luther King's acceptance speech for the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. There are the notes about the ending of King's iconic I Have a Dreamspeech. And there are the charming letters he received from children.

These and other King papers (King Center note: original article misquoted the number of documents. please see note in our FAQ) will be available online for the first time today, as the nation marks Martin Luther King Day.

The King Center Imaging Project, financed and overseen by JPMorgan Chase, offers free public access to the papers at www.TheKingCenter.org/archive.

The project came about after Martin Luther King III contacted Chase about preserving the documents, said Chase's Ali Marano, project facilitator. AT&T Business Solutions and EMC also contributed.

For the past nine months, 300 Chase staff members, college students and veterans hired by the company, and 100 volunteers from around the world have sorted through boxes of personal papers, documents and handwritten notes. They have taken digital images of each one, indexed them and stored them in acid-free containers with bar codes.

The papers, which had been stored at the King Center in Atlanta, include scraps of paper on which King expanded on his April 1963 "Letter from a Birmingham jail," an open response to criticism from clergy that he was an outside agitator.

There is a yellowed, handwritten draft of his "New Wine in New Bottles" sermon delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in January 1966. In it, King refers to the Book of Matthew to explain that new ideas work best in new times.

"What's exciting is we're not just bringing his story into perspective; we're offering a really relevant point of view that can impact future generations," Marano said.

In putting together the project, Chase consulted with people such as King aide Andrew Young; Clayborne Carson, director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University; and Kingian scholars at Morehouse College, King's alma mater, Marano said.

Martin Luther King III, president of the King Center, said the work "is helping to preserve and extend my father's important message to sustain the momentum of non-violent social change around the world."

The work has involved two shifts of 25 people each attending to each document. Staff and volunteers wear lab jackets and Latex gloves to prevent perfume or oils from damaging the papers, said Janella Thomas, a junior economics major at Spelman College.

"This project has really helped us to grow together and to make new friends and to get to know different kinds of people," said Thomas, 20, of Atlanta.

Michael Byrne, an Army veteran and a St. Louis native, said he did not know any black Americans growing up. When he showed up for the first day of the job at The King Center and saw a crowd of black students from Atlanta-area colleges, he realized he judged people based on stereotypes.

"Being here, I've realized that I've needed to give people a chance on an individual level," said Byrne, 38. "This is the first thing I've had that is more than a job to me."