ATLANTA Oct. 9 — A collection of some 10,000 papers, books and other personal items that belonged to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has been returned to Atlanta and will go on public display in January, officials at Morehouse College announced Monday.
The material, which has been housed at Sotheby’s, the New York auction house, since 2003, was saved from the auction block in June after a group of business and civic leaders, led by Mayor Shirley Franklin of Atlanta, raised $32 million to buy the papers from the King family.
Last month, some 70 boxes of the material arrived in Atlanta in an armored, air-conditioned FedEx truck. Since then, archivists and librarians have begun to catalog the papers in preparation for the public exhibit, which begins on what would have been Dr. King’s 78th birthday on Jan. 15.
“Every time you open a folder or look at a document, you’ll see someone’s name that you’ve read in history,” said Karen L. Jefferson, head of archives and special collections at the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center. The library serves three campuses, including Morehouse, Dr. King’s alma mater, which will eventually own the papers.
The collection includes historical gems like a draft of the “I Have a Dream” speech, and the “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” There are also more mundane items like canceled checks, college transcripts and even a tan briefcase still holding Magic Shave lotion, Fabergé cologne and Alka-Seltzer.
“He’s just become such an icon,” Ms. Jefferson said. “I think what happens with the papers is they make him more personable, more human.”
For the time being, the papers will be housed at the Woodruff library, but they may be moved in a few years, either to anchor a proposed civil rights museum or to a new building built to house them on the Morehouse campus.
“We haven’t gotten to the point of thinking about what to do three to four years from now,” said Walter Massey, president of Morehouse.
For now, Dr. Massey said, the focus is on getting the papers, which have seldom been seen even by scholars, in front of the public as a way to thank the city that pulled together to get them. There are other collections of King papers at Boston University and at the King Center in Atlanta.
“It’s difficult to describe the full emotional impact that these papers have,” Dr. Massey said.
By showing the papers, the coalition that brought them back to Atlanta also hopes to inspire new donations to its cause, Dr. Massey said.
Of the $32 million price, $20 million has been pledged and $9 million collected.
College administrators also sought to allay the fears of researchers that getting access to the papers would be difficult.
“It is the very cornerstone of our involvement in the project,” said Phillip D. Howard, vice president for institutional advancement at Morehouse. “If we were not able to supply scholarly access to the papers, we would be out of the business of the King papers.”
Original Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/10/us/10king.html?ref=shirleyfranklin