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. …