Atlanta, Morehouse College welcome home $32 million collection of Martin Luther King papers

Monday, October 9th 2006, 9:37 pm
By: News On 6

ATLANTA (AP) -- The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 78th birthday in January will feature a gift to the city: the first public viewing of more than 10,000 of his documents, notes and other personal items.

Pieces of the King Collection -- from a term paper he wrote as a student at Atlanta's Morehouse College to a draft of his "I Have A Dream" speech -- will be on display at the Atlanta History Center.

This summer, Mayor Shirley Franklin led the effort to acquire the papers from the New York offices of Sotheby's auction house, which had planned a public sale.

"The Martin Luther King Jr. Collection is home," a beaming Franklin said Monday.

The collection includes handwritten versions of King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, delivered at the 1963 March on Washington, and his acceptance speech for the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize.

After years in the basement of the King family home, the documents, books, and other items in the collection were moved to Sotheby's nearly a decade ago. Sotheby's tried to sell the collection, but previous negotiations fell through. It put them back on the market after King's widow, Coretta Scott King, died in February.

The mayor pulled off the 11th-hour deal to buy the papers in June for $32 million with the help of more than 50 corporate, government and private donors.

Morehouse College owns the papers. Archivists have been organizing the collection, including hundreds of books with scribble-filled margins and numerous sermons and writings.

"It was here that he was introduced to the ideas that would form the basis for his philosophy on nonviolence," said Morehouse College President Walter Massey. "Because of the pivotal role of Morehouse ... we believe there is no better place in the world for these papers to reside."

King's nephew, Isaac Newton Farris, represented the King family at Monday's announcement.

"This was truly my Aunt Coretta's initial vision, for the papers to be housed here," he said.