Remembering Martin Luther King Jr.: 5 Things I Learned Curating the MLK Collection at Morehouse College

For the past 11 years, civil rights historian Vicki Crawford has served as the principal of Morehouse College. Martin Luther King Jr Collection, where he oversees the archive consisting of iconic sermons, speeches, writings, and other materials belonging to King.

Few archives of historical documents compare to the importance of the Morehouse King Collection. In addition to King’s life, the collection chronicles many of the major events that occurred during the civil rights movement.

Since joining Morehouse, Crawford says he’s especially enjoyed introducing King to younger generations and helping them understand the powerful lessons of the fight for social justice, particularly how ordinary people organized and worked for social change.

Of the myriad things he has seen, read, and learned about King’s theology and civil rights activism, Crawford details five of the myriad aspects of his life that stand out.

an avid reader

King voraciously read a wide range of subjects, from the “Ana Frank’s diary” to “naive.” Of course, he also read about theology, religion, philosophy, and politics. But he especially enjoyed literature and the works of Leo Tolstoy.

The Morehouse College Martin Luther King Jr. Collection includes approximately 1,100 books from King’s personal library, many with his handwritten notes.

Some of the titles:Complete works of Mahatma Gandhi,” “Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar,” “Deep River: Reflections on the religious perception of some of the black spirituals“by Howard Thurman,”Invisible Man“by Ralph Ellison,”Family members” by Pearl S. Buck and “Moral man and immoral society: a study of ethics and politicsby Reinhold Niebuhr.

Others include “Frederick Douglass, My Slavery and My Freedom,” “silent spring” by Rachel Carson, “prison notes“Barbara Deming,”sleep killers” by Lillian Smith and “Here and beyond the sunset” by Nannie Helen Burroughs.

a famous writer

After 381 days Montgomery bus boycott, which began in 1955, King became a national figure whose ideas and opinions were highly sought after by book, newspaper, and magazine publishers.

Martin Luther King Jr. rides a bus from Montgomery to the front with Glenn Smiley from Texas.
Photo by Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

He became a prolific writer and the author of innumerable letters, possibly the most famous being “Letter from Birmingham Jail” as well as several books, most notably “why can’t we wait” Y “Where do we go from here: chaos or community?

But many Americans may not know that he wrote a regular column in Ebony magazine, the leading black national publication at the time. In its Column “Tips for living”, answered questions from readers and addressed a wide range of topics, including personal questions about marital infidelity, sexual identity, birth control, race relations, capital punishment, and atomic weapons.

A follower of Gandhi

Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, center, is flanked by guests Martin Luther King and his wife Coretta Scott King during a month-long visit to India in 1959.

In 1959, King and his wife visited India, where King’s commitment to Gandhi’s nonviolent teachings expanded and deepened. King always carried with him a note on a piece of paper that said “Gandhi speaks for us. …”

Gandhi walks through the crowd.
Gandhi walks with Sarojini Naidu in 1931.
Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images

a music lover

Music formed an important part of King’s life, beginning with his childhood experiences at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where his mother, Alberta Williams King, was the church’s organist. Alberta King introduced young ML, as he was called, to music as a child. Later he sang solos and sang with the church choir. While a student at Morehouse College from 1944 to 1948, Martin Luther King Jr. sang in the renowned Morehouse College Glee Club, as well as the Atlanta University-Morehouse-Spelman Choir.

Martin Luther King attends the chapel service in the 1940s.
In this photograph taken between 1944 and 1948, Martin Luther King Jr. attends a weekly chapel service in Sale Hall at Morehouse College.
Courtesy of Morehouse College.

Following his marriage to Coretta Scott in 1953, King further expanded his musical world. He met Coretta in Boston, where she was studying to become a concert soprano player at the New England Conservatory of Music. Coretta introduced King to classical music. He came to appreciate both sacred and secular music and also enjoyed jazz and blues.

Some of King’s favorite gospel hymns and songs include “Take my hand, precious Lord,” “how i got over,” “Thank my Lord” Y “never grow old.”

King was also friends with Aretha Franklin and her father, Reverend CL Franklin, and gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. King felt that music was a powerful element in activism and nonviolent protest.

a Nobel laureate

Martin Luther King Jr. receives the Nobel Peace Prize
Crown Prince Harald and King Olav of Norway congratulate King after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo in 1964.

At the age of 35, King was the youngest person, the third African-American and the 12th American, to win the coveted Nobel Peace Prize for his firm belief that nonviolence was an integral part of obtaining full citizenship rights for blacks in the United States.

On December 10, 1964, King announced that he would donate the nobel prize money to the civil rights movement.

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Remembering Martin Luther King Jr.: 5 Things I Learned Curating the MLK Collection at Morehouse College