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King Papers Position Morehouse For Change

Morehouse College stands to gain much more than the 10,000 documents in the collection of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s writings bought by a coalition of business leaders, individuals and philanthropic leaders in Atlanta.

Questions remain about accessibility and where to house the collection, but the college, in acquiring the papers, is positioning itself to upgrade its scholarship, facilities and public perception, its officials say.

“It can only enhance Morehouse’s reputation, nationally and internationally, and carries the Morehouse tradition of our alumni, prominent, well-known alumni, be[ing] closely connected with the college,” said Walter E. Massey, Morehouse College president, in an interview.

“It’s another recognition that we are among the finest colleges in the world, the fact that this kind of collection would be entrusted into our oversight,” said Massey. “One of the reasons that the city was able to make a deal to buy the papers before going to auction was that the family really wanted [it] to come to Morehouse, and they are very pleased.”

The Morehouse community is celebrating the acquisition as a homecoming. The news came after Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin assembled a coalition of business and civic leaders to donate money to obtain the collection before a scheduled June 30 auction at Sotheby’s auction house in New York.

“Obviously, the papers are priceless,” the mayor told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The key is to establish Atlanta as the home of civil rights and human rights. Getting the papers shows that the entire community is embracing that legacy.”

But that does not mean that Morehouse has an exclusive deal.

Stanford University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute has seen to it that Stanford has photocopies and scans of the documents, according to a statement posted on its Web site by Dr. Clayborne Carson, the director.

Along with the gift the city gave Morehouse came the understanding of open accessibility.

“The mayor is interested in building a civil rights museum in the city that might house some of the papers or an exhibit,” Massey said. If that happened, Morehouse would likely comply with a request to house the papers at the museum, or at least exhibit them there, he said.

Despite the assurances of access to the collection, some students fear they will not be able to use the documents as undergraduates.

“First, where are they going to hold it?” asks Steven Ford, a senior history major from Houston, speaking of the collection.

“And how is Morehouse going to make it available to the public? In the past, for students as well as faculty,” he says, the archives “really have not been accessible or been easy to get to. I think Morehouse really needs to upgrade the work that they’re trying to do because it’s not just students that are going to [be] accessing these papers, but people around the world.

“I can’t even imagine being able to look at some of Dr. King’s work,” Ford says. “It would be a really good opportunity and I think that if I had the chance, I would really enjoy it.”

Ford is correct in thinking some students would have limited access, according to a leading professor and researcher of history at Morehouse, Dr. Alton Hornsby Jr. “Collections of this sort are very carefully guarded, and generally speaking, many of the major collections are unavailable to undergraduates,” he says.

Yet Hornsby recognized the research benefits of King’s writing for Morehouse students. He and others say Morehouse has many scholars and serious students who would be eager to use this opportunity to engage in scholarship.

“I would hope, as some of us on the faculty have tried, to expose undergraduates to original research,” he says. “It enhances their academic composition while they are undergraduates and it is a leg up once they are in graduate school. I would hope that at some point that serious upperclassmen doing serious research would be given access.”

— Black College Wire

Reader comments on this story:

There is currently 1 reader comment on this story:

“The King Papers at Morehouse”
As a Morehouse Dad and one proud of Morehouse’s history and Dr. King’s legacy, I think it fit and proper, really wonderful,  that the King Papers be housed there.  I also think that they must be archived in such a way as to enhance both the educational experiences of Morehouse undergraduates and also made accessible to historians and others with legitimate human and civil rights interests and commitment to responsible scholarship.  It is important that the donors who made this possible or others who can be invited to join in their action, provide the funds that will ensure their adequate care, appropriate housing, tools of conservation and management.  An endowment needs to be put in place to that end.  It would also be wise to consult with other holders of such papers to get their advice on best practices (I am sure that those who manage the Friends Historical Library and the Peace Collection here at Swarthmore would contribute their expertise and links to a network of expertise.)

       This wonderful opportunity must be carefully implemented for the long term.  Dr. King deserves no less than the best that can be done.

       I urge pursuit of a fund dedicated to the support of the King Papers at Morehouse.
-Maurice P. Eldridge

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