King papers exhibit opens on national holiday

A patron looks over papers at the Morehouse College Martin Luther King, Jr. collection at the Atlanta History Center which opened on the King Holiday in Atlanta.
A patron examines papers of the Martin Luther King, Jr. collection at the Atlanta History Center, which opened on Monday in Atlanta, Ga. Tami Chappell / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

As the Atlanta History Center opened Monday for the first public exhibition of Martin Luther King Jr.’s papers since they were returned to his hometown, people walked in, hushed and quiet, and filed past King’s sermons, notes and books.

Bertis Post, 70, of Atlanta said a prayer as she waited to be admitted into the dimly lit exhibit hall. The retired nurse said she marched with King in Alabama and Atlanta, and the exhibit brought back many difficult memories.

“I remember a lot that I don’t care to say,” she said. “I always wanted to see the papers in person — just to be here and be around what you believe.”

Post said she was especially happy to see the many parents who brought young children to the exhibit.

One such parent was Mekia Gravett, a 25-year-old mother of two from Villa Rica, west of Atlanta. She said she wanted to teach her children about King so they would understand that things weren’t always as easy as they are today and would appreciate those who helped pave the way.

“I want them to know where they come from; now it’s just part of history books,” said the dental student. Gravett said she especially wanted her 8-year-old daughter to see all the books King read and appreciate the importance of education.

Nearby, Derrick Byrd, who brought his 8-year-old twins to the exhibit, was entering some of the titles from King’s collection into his BlackBerry so he would remember to add them to his reading list.

One of his daughters, Moriah, said she wanted to read a book that King read: “To Be Equal” by Whitney Young.

First draft of history
The exhibit, which opened on what would have been King’s 78th birthday, includes King’s letter from Birmingham jail, an early draft of King’s famous speech “I Have A Dream,” his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize, and more than 600 of his other personal documents.

The exhibit is a glimpse at a portion of the collection of more than 10,000 King papers and books that Mayor Shirley Franklin helped acquire for the city for $32 million from Sotheby’s auction house last summer. More than 50 corporate, government and private donors pitched in to give the papers to Atlanta’s Morehouse College, where King graduated in 1948 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology.

The exhibit will remain at the history center through May 13. The papers will then be housed at the Robert W. Woodruff Library on the campus of the Atlanta University Center, which includes Morehouse College.

Also Monday, Stanford University’s Martin Luther King Research and Education Institute released the sixth volume in its series on King’s papers. The volume contains some of King’s earliest sermons and other writings, shedding light on the theological roots of his activism.

Coretta Scott King asked Stanford professor Clayborne Carson to examine the papers in 1997.