Civil rights scholars and activists as well as friends of Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr, who was assassinated on 4 April 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee, USA, jubilated when it was announced on 27 June last year that the important archive of the famous civil rights leader would be retained by his undergraduate alma mater, Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr King was a 1948 graduate of Morehouse College.
Deemed a historic archive of the 20th century, it is known to include Dr King's significant academic papers as well as his handwritten Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech and his famous 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech.
For many of Dr King's admirers and former fellow civil rights allies, it is very comforting that the documents are to stay in his hometown of Atlanta, and more so in the possession of Morehouse College, thanks to a $32m deal arranged by progressive businesses and philanthropists with the King family.
Dr Walter Massey, president of Morehouse College and also himself an old boy of the college said: "Given the important role Morehouse played in Dr King's intellectual, spiritual and moral development, we believe there simply is no better place for these papers to reside. We are grateful to the King family for their confidence in Morehouse to serve as the repository for this legacy, which reflects the best thinking of our nation's most outstanding leader, and of Morehouse College's most outstanding alumnus."
Morehouse College played crucial roles in Dr King's life, indeed up to the time of his death in 1968. For, apart from its famous chapel being used for part of Dr King's funeral rites, the college's president emeritus, Benjamin Elijah Mays, gave the eulogy of Dr King, as both men had planned.
Dr Mays revealed early in his eulogy: "It was my desire that if I pre-deceased Dr King, he would pay tribute to me on my final day. It was his wish that if he pre-deceased me, I deliver the homily at his funeral. Fate has decreed that I eulogise him. I wish that it might have been otherwise, for after all, I am three score years and ten and Martin Luther is dead at 39."
A lifesize statute of Dr King has been erected on the Morehouse campus in honour of its most famous alumnus. Therefore, his archive has proverbially come home to a befitting honour and rest. Reportedly, it was at the last minute that a group of very progressive businesses and philanthropists came together to raise the needed funds to buy the papers from Dr King's four living children: Yolanda King; Martin III; Dexter King; and Rev Dr Bernice Albertine King, who gave the powerful eulogy at her mother's funeral in Atlanta last year.
Dr King's children and other family members (initially including his widow, Mrs Coretta Scott King, who also died last year) had always wished to have a secure home for the papers instead of remaining in family hands. Therefore, the Morehouse arrangement was in line with that desire but not merely as a matter of greed as some critics have claimed against the King family members involved in the sale. Several academic institutions and their leaders initially felt uncomfortable that such a crucial civil rights throve could very easily fall into the hands of non-black institutions. It was a similar feeling that several helpless African academic institutions felt when the archive of Ghana's first president, Kwame Nkrumah, including his unpublished as well as several handwritten papers, could not be housed on an African campus. Thanks to Nkrumah's immediate family and June Milne, his literary executrix, who made sure that Howard University--a historically black institution in the US--retained the precious archive of the 20th century's foremost pan-Africanist.
The New York-based auction house, Sotheby's, had arranged for the sale of Dr King's archive of nearly 10,000 items on 30 June last year. Although past arrangements between the King family and the Library of Congress did not materialise, it was reported that the Smithsonian Institute and several US-based universities and colleges were competing to house what Sotheby's described as "the most important archive of the 20th century in private hands".
The historic acquisition was reported by the Morehouse College magazine to have been "saved, sealed and delivered literally hours before the gavel was to drop at Sotheby's auction house in New York in a deal sealed by a group of Atlantans who wanted to see it returned to its rightful home.
Among the important Atlanta-based personalities at the Sotheby's auction event were Shirley Franklin, Atlanta's mayor; Xernona Clayton, the corporate consultant and executive producer of Turner Broadcasting Trumpet Awards; and Andrew Young, America's former UN ambassador. According to Phillip Howard, Morehouse College's institutional advancement vice-president, the group that will truly benefit from the collection is the students. He added: "[The collection] allows us to provide another academic component to enhance courses and provide additional courses. But it also gives [society] a three-dimension view of who King was. You see King in a wholly different way, and the students will be able to have the kind of dimension during a time of their discovery and inquiry."
Apart from the ever-growing academic and historical interests in the King archive, the mayor of Atlanta, Shirley Franklin, herself a devout civil rights activist who is said to have played a role in retaining the archive in her city, plans to utilise it as "the centrepiece of a civil rights museum in Atlanta", indeed similar to the one in Memphis where Dr King was assassinated. An important facet of the King archive is the creation of the Stanford University-based Martin Luther King Jr Papers Project which is expected to produce an authoritative, chronologically-arranged, multi-volume editions of the papers.
The first volume, subtitled Called To Serve, January 1929-June 1951, started with the childhood letters that Dr King exchanged with his parents as well as other letters, including those written when the young King was working on a tobacco farm in Connecticut (in a summer job), and Morehouse College papers of his teenage years.
Volume II is subtitled Rediscovering Precious Values, July 1951-November 1955, which begins with the doctoral work of Dr King at Boston University and effectively ends with the initial stages of his pastoral work at Alabama's Dexter Avenue Baptist Church; several of graduate school papers, an annotated version of his doctoral dissertation, and his marriage to the then Ms Coretta Scott (spotting a wedding photograph); a transcription of a February 1954 sermon at Detroit's Second Baptist Church; young King's note-cards; and an early letter to H. Edward Whitaker.
As the editors of the volume have recorded: "King's early years document the formative experiences of a man whose life and teachings have had a profound influence not only on Americans but on people of all nations."
The third volume will include information on the visit of Dr and Mrs King to Ghana in March 1957 to witness the independence anniversary, during which the Kings had dinner with the then new prime minister, Kwame Nkrumah. Mrs King wrote admirably about the trip to Ghana and, later Nigeria, in her 1969 memoirs, My Life with Martin Luther King Jr.
Atlanta has housed most of the King archive for many years. Boston University, Dr King's postgraduate alma mater, also houses several important King papers and photographs, including a 1955 photograph that the young King, as a preacher, submitted with his dissertation in April of that year. Mrs Coretta Scott King went to court in Boston in her efforts to retrieve the papers housed in the King Special Collection of the Boston University Library, but she was unsuccessful.
Dr King was alleged to have sent the papers there "for safekeeping" at the time when his Alabama home was being firebombed by anti-civil rights elements. Since he died intestate, Boston University refused to surrender the papers to the King family, and the university has been supported by decisions of Boston-based courts.
As the 39th anniversary of his death approaches, these archives are bound to attract even more attention.
RELATED ARTICLE: Press freedom
2006, the deadliest year since 1994
At least 81 journalists were killed in 2006 in 21 countries while doing their job or for expressing their opinion, the highest annual toll since 1994 when 103 journalists died (half of them in the Rwanda genocide, 20 in the Algerian civil war, and 12 in the former Yugoslavia). Thirty-two media assistants (fixers, drivers, translators, technicians, security staff) were also killed in 2006 (only five in 2005).
According to a report by the French NGO, Reporters sans Frontieres (Reporters without Borders), Iraq was the world's most dangerous country for the media for the fourth year running, with 64 journalists and media assistants killed. Since the US and the UK invaded the country in 2003, 139 journalists have been killed there, more than twice the number of journalists killed in the 20-year Vietnam War (63 killed between 1955 and 1975). About 90% of the victims were Iraqis.
To Africa's credit, no journalist was killed in any of the 53 countries of the continent in 2006. However, supporters of the two main presidential candidates in DRCongo--President Joseph Kabila and his rival Jean-Pierre Bemba--regularly attacked journalists they accused of sympathising with the "enemy camp". A visiting foreign reporter was deported in both Uganda and Ethiopia at election time.
Unlike other organisations, Reporters sans Frontieres includes journalists in its death count only when it is certain that their deaths are linked to their work as journalists. Dozens of other cases have not been included because investigators have not yet determined the motives or because it is clear that they were not related to the issue of press freedom.
The second most dangerous country was Mexico, which also moved ahead of Colombia as Latin America's deadliest place for the media. Nine journalists were killed there in 2006 because they were investigating drug trafficking or reporting on violent social unrest. The situation in The Philippines was also grim, with six journalists killed (compared with seven in 2005).
Elsewhere, three journalists were killed in Russia, making 21 since President Vladimir Putin came to power in March 2000. Press freedom shrank further in neighbouring Turkmenistan, with the crackdown on independent media reaching a peak in September when the family of Radio Free Europe correspondent, Ogulsapar Muradova, announced that she had died in prison, three months after being jailed. Despite repeated demands by the European Union, the authorities did not investigate her death. In Lebanon, a photographer and a TV technician were killed by Israeli bombing during the war between Israel and Hizbullah. A dozen journalists were injured or wounded during the fighting in the summer.…