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Gotlieb Center Receives $600K to Archive King Documents Online

MLK collection will close for two years for cataloguing

Since 1964, the Martin Luther King, Jr., collection at Boston University’s Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center — more than 83,000 letters, manuscripts, speeches, and photographs belonging to the late civil rights leader — has been a critical resource for King (GRS’55, Hon.’59) scholars. It is the most heavily used collection at Boston University, says HGARC director Vita Paladino, and scholars come from around the world to review the documents.

An effort is now under way to bring the King collection to a wider audience. The Gotlieb Center has entered into a partnership with the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center Consortium and the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute at Stanford University to create a joint online catalogue of their respective King holdings. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is funding the effort, the first-ever comprehensive inventory of multiple archives for one public figure, and has given the Gotlieb Center more than $600,000 for the project.

"This project will be a great tribute to Dr. King by making the great historical record of his archive more accessible to researchers all over the world,"  says Paladino (MET’79, SSW’93). "This will hopefully also enlighten the world about his work, his theories and beliefs, and his sacrifice for the benefit of future generations."

In order to begin the cataloguing, the King archives will close to the public for two years, beginning on Thursday, November 1. The exhibition Stride Toward Freedom, which features originals and reproductions of King’s correspondence with other civil rights leaders and family members, will remain open on the third floor of Mugar Memorial Library.

“I am very proud that Boston University is at the forefront of such an outstanding project, which not only will set a new standard for what is possible in the archival industry, but also facilitate and encourage research of such an important figure in the history of both BU and the nation,” says BU President Robert A. Brown. “We look forward to this collaboration with our prominent colleagues at the Robert W. Woodruff Library and Stanford University and thank the Mellon Foundation for making this vision a reality.”

The King collection dates from 1955 to 1961 and consists of letters, clippings, itineraries, and meeting minutes. There is extensive material on the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Montgomery Improvement Association and letters from prominent figures of the time, among them Bayard Rustin, Malcolm X, Adam Clayton Powell, Medgar Evers, Roy Wilkins, Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou, William Sloane Coffin, Allan Knight Chalmers, Sidney Poitier, Jackie Robinson, A. Philip Randolph, Harry Belafonte, Ralph Abernathy, and Coretta Scott King.

The archive also features material used in King’s doctoral dissertation, including his class notes and research material, and a piece titled “Autobiography of My Religious Development.” Draft manuscripts of King’s books Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story and Why We Can’t Wait, which includes his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, are part of the collection as well.

Photographs in the archive include images of King with his family and congregation, a formal portrait, and a photograph of his coffin being transported by airplane.

Jessica Ullian can be reached at jullian@bu.edu.