Exploring the Archives for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
Ever since we ourselves were first introduced to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change archive, we’ve been mindful of recognizing the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday by sharing links to the archive on social media. This year we asked Badger — a volunteer moderator on the TOM BIHN Forums — to contribute a post to our blog that showcases King and the archives. We hope it inspires you as much as it does us! – Darcy
Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It is a federal holiday celebrated in the United States on the third Monday of January, which tends to fall close to King’s birthdate of January 15. King, who was born in 1929 and assassinated on April 4, 1968, was a Baptist minister and one of the first and most influential leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. He advocated the practice of nonviolent civil disobedience, organizing sit-ins and boycotts of segregated businesses and services. Along with other African-American clergy and churches, King helped to found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, of which he was also the first president. The SCLC harnessed the collective energy of church communities in order to promote anti-segregation activism.
King is perhaps most famous for his speech, “I Have a Dream,” which he orated from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the 1963 March on Washington. The march was a political rally that drew hundreds of thousands of people from across the country to demand equal rights for African Americans. The March on Washington is believed to have played a major contributing role in the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which in turn paved the way for the Selma Voting Rights Movement and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In 1964, King was commended for his efforts when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Shortly after his assassination, a call went out to recognize his birthday as a national holiday, though it would take over a dozen years before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1983. Finally, in the year 2000, the holiday was observed by all 50 states.
“I Have a Dream” is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of American oratory, but King was an incredibly prolific writer, producing hundreds of pages of scholarly and political essays; he was also a working minister who wrote dozens upon dozens of sermons. Although King was barely 39 years old at the time of his death, scores of documents exist that were either authored by him or in relation to him and his work.
Nearly one million of these artifacts are held by the archive at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in King’s home town of Atlanta, Georgia. In addition to the archive and the library that houses it, the center is the site of Dr. and Mrs. King’s burial crypt, a memorial and reflecting pool, an exhibition hall, the church where King’s father was pastor, and the home where King was born. Open year-round to the public and with free admission, the King Center is unparalleled in its scope, and is visited by a million people per year.
But anyone with an internet connection can browse the King Center’s digital archive, which has processed and digitized around 200,000 primary sources related to King and the Civil Rights Movement. Upon accessing the digital archive, visitors can:
- search for specific texts (for example, “I Have a Dream,” “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” “What is Man?”);
- look at photographs, read news articles, and examine personal correspondence—telegrams and letters received by King (such as this one, from Eleanor Roosevelt);
- and read sermons (such as the New Year homily “Old Wine in New Bottles,” and the handwritten outline to “Tensions Between Life’s Palm Sunday and Life’s Good Friday“).
The archive’s home page presents a mosaic of “spotlights,” which link directly to materials that many visitors will find interesting; the archive can also be searched using the “theme” drop-down menu (for instance, to go to all of King’s sermons, or famous quotes), or by using traditional key words. The archive rewards browsing and frequent visits: it is updated almost daily with new content.
The King Center website also hosts an online gallery that showcases people’s dreams for the world. Each dream is labeled with the author’s state or country of residence, and the writer can tag the submission so that it is categorized into a tag cloud. Online visitors are also encouraged to submit dreams to be posted on the website.
The archive at the King Center preserves and disseminates an important part of American history: in addition to keeping the memory of Dr. King alive, it reveals the contributions made to the Civil Rights Movement by ordinary people from around the world—schoolchildren, factory employees, minor politicians, teachers. So, when we celebrate Dr. King, we also celebrate those who, then and now, understand in a myriad of ways that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”
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