MLK's Alma Mater Acquires Civil Rights Leader's Personal Papers

A collection of Martin Luther King Jr.'s handwritten documents and books won't be sold at auction and instead will be given to his alma mater, officials said Friday.

A coalition of businesses, individuals and philanthropic leaders led by Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin bought the collection from the King family for an undisclosed amount, said Morehouse College President Walter Massey.

The personal papers and books of the civil rights leader were expected to sell for $15 million to $30 million at Sotheby's auction house in New York on June 30. Massey said the Atlanta group offered more than that.

Massey said his historically black college near downtown Atlanta would acquire the collection, which historians had called one of the greatest American archives of the 20th century in private hands.

"It really didn't belong anywhere else," said Andrew Young, a lieutenant of King's during the civil rights movement, who became overcome with emotion when discussing the deal Friday night.

The papers span 1946 to 1968, the year King was assassinated. They include 7,000 handwritten items, including his early Alabama sermons and a draft of his "I Have a Dream" speech, which he delivered Aug. 28, 1963, at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Atlanta is King's birthplace and where his wife, Coretta Scott King, raised their four children after his death. It also is where she founded the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change and where King and his wife are entombed.

"I can't imagine a better home than the home of Dr. King for this collection," said Sotheby's Vice Chairman David Redden, who confirmed that the auction would no longer take place.

"It was there for years, it's going to be there forever. I think that's a marvelous conclusion to this extraordinary process," he said. "It guarantees that it will be looked after properly and made available to the public."

Redden would not disclose the purchase price. The city was the sentimental favorite in the bidding and was rumored to have stiff competition from others across the country, including the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, Duke University, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library.

Coretta Scott King's death in January was a catalyst for the sale because her will calls for the liquidation of her estate.

For years, Sotheby's auction house has tried to sell the collection, but previous negotiations with various institutions fell through.

"People have seen this as an opportunity to step up and lay claim to Martin Luther King's nonviolent heritage as a part of Atlanta's tradition," said Young, a former mayor of the city.

Franklin, the current mayor, did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment.

The 139-year-old Morehouse College stands as the largest private, liberal arts college in the country for men with 2,800 students, and one of only four all-male colleges in the U.S. The school's other famous alumni include actor Samuel L. Jackson, former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher and film director Spike Lee.