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 home >> Civil Rights History Project >> Survey of Collections and Repositories >> Collections >> Collection Record

The Civil Rights History Project: Survey of Collections and Repositories

Martin Luther King, Jr. collection

Repository: Boston University. Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center

Collection Description (Extant): The Martin Luther King, Jr. collection, donated in 1964, consists of manuscripts, notebooks, correspondence, printed material, financial and legal papers, a small number of photographs and other items dating from 1947 to 1963.

Manuscripts include class notes, examinations and papers written by Dr. King while a student at Morehouse College (1944-1948), Crozer Theological Seminary (1948-1951) and Boston University (1951-1953). Among the notable documents are: a paper entitled Ritual (1947), composed at Morehouse; An Autobiography of Religious Development (1950), an assignment for the “Religious Development of Personality” class at Crozer taught by one of King’s mentors, George W. Davis; and notes and drafts of his doctoral dissertation, A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman (1955). Additional manuscripts in the collection include drafts of speeches, sermons and three books: "Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story" (Harper, 1958), about the 1955-1956 bus boycott; "Strength to Love" (Harper & Row, 1963), a collection of several of his best-known sermons including “A Knock at Midnight,” “Shattered Dreams,” “The Death of Evil Upon the Seashore,” and “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life;” and "Why We Can’t Wait" (Harper & Row, 1964), which includes the famed “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

Dr. King’s office files, which date from 1955 to 1963, make up the bulk of the collection and consist primarily of letters, but also include itineraries, financial and legal documents, printed items, news clippings, and similar documents. There is material related to both the Dexter Avenue Church in Montgomery, Alabama, and the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. Additionally, there are extensive files related to the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Other organizations which prominently figure include the American Friends Service Committee, which helped to finance Dr. King’s 1959 trip to India; the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE); the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); and the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).

Notable correspondence from figures in the Civil Rights movement includes letters from Bayard Rustin, Malcolm X, Adam Clayton Powell, Ella J. Baker, Medgar Evers, Roy Wilkins, Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou, William Sloane Coffin, Allan Knight Chalmers, Sidney Poitier, Jackie Robinson, A. Philip Randolph, Harry Belafonte, and Ralph Abernathy. Distinguished U.S. Government correspondents include Alabama Gov. John Patterson, Robert F. Kennedy, Sargent Shriver, Paul Douglas, Prescott Bush, Ralph Bunche, Eleanor Roosevelt, Hubert Humphrey, Richard M. Nixon, Dean Rusk, Walter Reuther, Adlai Stevenson, Earl Warren, Harry S. Truman, and Lyndon B. Johnson. Other eminent correspondents include James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Jawaharlal Nehru, Linus Pauling, Nat King Cole, Cass Canfield, Ralph Ginzburg, Julian Huxley, Paul Tillich, and Stanley Levison.

Photographs in the collection include images of King with his family and congregation, a formal portrait, a photograph of the knife with which he was stabbed in 1958, and his coffin being transported by airplane.

Awards for King in the collection include an honorary Doctor of Divinity diploma from the Chicago Theological Seminary (1957); a certificate from the Alabama Association of Women’s Clubs (1957); Man of the Year Award from the Capital Press Club (1957); the Social Justice Award from the Religion and Labor Foundation (1957); the New York City proclamation of May 16, 1961 as “Desegregation Day” in honor of King, by Mayor Robert Wagner (1961); a citation from Americans for Democratic Action (1961); a certificate from the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (1963); an award from the Institute of Adult Education, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Bayonne, New Jersey (1964); and King’s certificate of membership in the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity at Boston University.

Audio in the collection includes recordings of King delivering a speech at Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina (1958); an interview with Bayard Rustin (1963); King’s visit to Boston University in 1964 to donate his papers; King giving a speech at the Golden Jubilee Convention of the United Synagogues of America (Nov. 19, 1964); King speaking to District 65 DWA; and King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Other items in the collection include telephone log books (1961–1963); King’s diary regarding his arrest on July 27, 1962; numerous clippings, pamphlets, flyers, articles, and other printed items; and a monogrammed leather briefcase owned by King. An addendum to the collection includes correspondence pertaining to the Joan Daves Agency’s dealings with King and the King Estate. These letters date from 1958 to 1993 and cover advertising and promotion, King’s Massey Lectures (1967), publishing rights, permissions, and other subjects.

Collection URL: External Link

Digital Status: Partial

Extent: 83,000 items

Finding Aid URL: External Link

Language: English

Interviewees: Bayard Rustin, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rights (CRHP): Contact the repository which holds the collection for information on rights


African American clergy
African Americans--Civil rights--Alabama
Civil rights movements--Alabama
Civil rights--Religious aspects
Congress of Racial Equality
King, Coretta Scott, 1927-2006
King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1929-1968
March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Washington, D.C., 1963
Montgomery Bus Boycott, Montgomery, Ala., 1955
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
Southern Christian Leadership Conference
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (U.S.)


Sound recordings


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   September 26, 2018
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