Gerald Herbert  /  AP
The signature of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. on a copy of Time Magazine naming him as Man of the Year is featured in an exhibit of black journalism as part of Black History Month at the National Press Club in Washington.
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updated 2/3/2006 8:02:09 PM ET 2006-02-04T01:02:09

The first book written by a black person. America's first black newspaper. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s signature on the Time magazine issue naming him "Man of the Year" for 1963, the year of his "I Have a Dream" speech at a historic civil rights march in Washington.

These items and dozens of other works featuring blacks in journalism and their contributions to the profession are on display in the nation's capital for Black History Month.

"Throughout several centuries, black contributions to journalism have been critical to educating and informing an entire class of people about events in its own community _ events ignored or largely neglected by the white press in America," said Mark E. Mitchell, a collector of black memorabilia.

It is from Mitchell's collection of newspapers, books, letters and other artifacts that some 30 items were culled for the exhibit that will be on display throughout the month of February.

Journalism critical to educating, informing
Ride an elevator to the 13th floor of the National Press Club in downtown Washington, a few blocks from the White House. Step off and there in the lobby, behind a protective glass window, see the Time magazine cover of King that bears the slain civil rights leader's signature.

In a thank-you letter to the publication's editors, King says his selection is not a reward for him alone, "but rather a tribute to the entire civil rights struggle and the millions of gallant people all over the nation who are working so untiringly to bring the American dream into reality."

A 29-cent spiral notebook bearing author Alex Haley's name is said to document the writing of the final portion of his first major work, "The Autobiography of Malcolm X." Haley, who died in 1992, also used the notebook to record progress on his other writings, including "Before This Anger." That was the working title of what became his epic book, "Roots," in which he traced his family to one African man.

"Basically, this is the diary of a working journalist," Mitchell said during a reception to launch the exhibit. It is being presented in conjunction with the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is to be built on the National Mall near the Washington Monument.

When the book "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral" was published in 1773, it was the first written by a black person _ Phillis Wheatley, who was kidnapped from west Africa and transported to Boston where she was bought by John Wheatley.

The exhibit includes copies of abolitionist newspapers, along with various news pages announcing milestones in black history, including Jackie Robinson breaking baseball's color barrier by joining the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, Cassius Clay (now known as Muhammad Ali) winning boxing's world heavyweight championship from Sonny Liston in 1964, and King's assassination in 1968.

Harvard scholar Carter G. Woodson, who actively promoted black education, gets credit for Black History Month. In 1926, Woodson organized Negro History Week, which took place during the second week of February. Over time, it evolved into a monthlong celebration of black history.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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