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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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Photo of MLK and Mr. David

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

Address by Jackie Robinson at SCLC Freedom Dinner

Tuesday, September 25, 1962

Guest speaker Jackie Robinson discusses his personal struggles with adopting the philosophy of nonviolence, race relations and the far-reaching efforts of the SCLC.

If I Can Help Somebody

These are the words to a song written in 1945 by Alma Bazel Androzzo that was made famous by gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. Dr. King quotes this song in his Drum Major Instinct sermon delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church on February 4, 1968.

The Man Who Was a Fool

The sermon "The Man Who Was a Fool," was published in the June 1961 issue of the journal The Pulpit. Dr. King delivered the sermon in both Chicago and Detroit in early 1961.

Excerpt from The Drum Major Instinct

This passage quotes one of Dr. King's acclaimed sermons delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He defines the desire to lead as "the Drum Major instinct." Seeing himself as a Drum Major for justice, peace, and righteousness, Dr. King posits what should be said at his funeral.

Donation from United States Trust Company

Tuesday, February 6, 1968

Franklin D. Roosevelt III arranges to have one thousand dollars sent to the SCLC.

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.

Telegram from MLK to Senator Robert Kennedy

Dr. King praises Senator Kennedy's efforts toward abolishing the poll tax in state elections.

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.

Letter From Vice President Johnson to MLK

Friday, April 27, 1962

Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson wrote this note to Dr. King to respectfully decline his invitation to a luncheon and to serve on the board of directors of the Gandhi Society for Human Rights. He states he enjoyed their last meeting and is looking forward to the next one.

Letter from Stuart E. Atkinson to the SCLC

Stuart E. Atkinson sends a donation to the SCLC and requests the address to which he should send donated clothing and toys.

Anonymous Letter to MLK

The author of this letter asks what Dr. King is doing for his people. He or she recommends the rich Negro people in the community help the poor just as the American Jewish community helped Israel.

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?

MLK Speech at NAACP Sponsored Rally for Civil Rights

Sunday, July 10, 1960

Dr. King gives a speech in which he addresses a myriad of issues on the subject of civil rights.

Presidential Invitation to White House Luncheon

Tuesday, June 5, 1962

President Kennedy invites Dr. King to attend a White House Luncheon on the occasion of the visit of Archbishop Makarios, the President of the Republic of Cyprus.

Letter from SNCC Executive Committee to MLK

Sunday, March 7, 1965

John Lewis and Silas Norman of SNCC write Dr. King to address their organization's grievances with the SCLC, specifically the SCLC's lack of cooperation in the Selma Voting Rights campaign. Members of SNCC state their disagreement with the march planned for March 7, 1965 because "the objectives of the march do not justify the danger and the resources involved." Lewis and Norman request a meeting with Dr. King to discuss reconciliation between SNCC and the SCLC.

Birmingham Desegregation Settlement Agreement

Friday, May 10, 1963

Dr. King reviews the settlement made between the City of Birmingham and civil rights protesters. This agreement includes the integration of lunch counters, sitting rooms, restrooms, and water fountains within ninety days.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Tuesday, January 1, 1974

This document is regarding the celebration of the Birthday Anniversary of the late Dr. King. The author states, "While the national holiday legislation is pending in Congress, masses of people everywhere already personally declare the date to be their own to honor one of history's greatest leaders."

President Kennedy's Record

Friday, February 9, 1962

In this February 1962 column for the New York Amsterdam News, Dr. King acknowledges President Kennedy's appointment of Negroes and executive order ending employment discrimination. But he calls the President “cautious and defensive” in providing strong leadership in civil rights and criticizes him for not ordering an end to discrimination in federally-assisted housing.

Letter from Bayard Rustin to MLK

Friday, July 7, 1967

Bayard Rustin informs Dr. King that Sydney Vincent, the Executive Director of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland, would like to gather the major Jewish organizational leaders to discuss Dr. King's work in Cleveland, Ohio.

Tonight Show Appearance Press Release

Wednesday, January 31, 1968

The SCLC announces that Dr. King will appear on the Tonight Show with Harry Belafonte filling in for Johnny Carson as host. Comedian Nipsey Russell and actor Paul Newman, both active in the civil rights movement, will also be guests. Dr. King looks forward to this opportunity to speak about the upcoming Poor People?s Campaign.

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.

Letter from United States Congress to MLK

Friday, September 22, 1967

Joseph McDade writes Dr. King to solicit his views regarding the affects of organized crime on the plight of the urban poor.

The Birth of a New Nation

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

Ralph David Abernathy: A Man of the People

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference published this booklet profiling Ralph David Abernathy. The articles describe his background, how he got involved in the Civil Rights Movement and the future of the SCLC under his leadership.

Nobel Lecture by MLK

Friday, December 11, 1964

This is a copy of the Lecture given by Dr. King in Oslo, Norway upon his winning the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. He thanks the Norwegian Parliament for honoring him with this award. He speaks of the evils of racially injustice and the belief that "oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever." He speaks of the need to peacefully come together in harmony as humanity because a peaceful world cannot be built based on a "negative path."

Miss Mahalia Jackson in Concert

Sunday, December 1, 1963

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference presents Miss Mahalia Jackson in concert, marking "another milestone in her personal dedication to the drive for complete freedom for all humanity."

Letter from Halevy H. Simmons to MLK

Wednesday, October 3, 1962

New York-based architect Halevy H. Simmons offers his professional services to rebuild Negro churches in the state of Georgia.These pillars of Negro culture were targeted throughout the state in a series of racially motivated hate crimes.

The Nobel Couple

Thursday, December 10, 1964

The cover photo of the December 1964 issue of The American Chronicle captures Dr. and Mrs. King after they discover he was named the winner of the year's Nobel Peace Prize.

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.