Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Scholarly Access Now Available to the Martin Luther King Jr. Collection

Historian Clayborne Carson has had a love affair with everything “King” for most of his life. For the past quarter century, he’s been able to mesh that love with his professional passion. Now, Carson will expand that passion even more as he joins the Morehouse faculty as the Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Professor and executive director of the Morehouse College Martin Luther King Jr. Collection.

As executive director of the more than 10,000-piece Collection, Carson will be responsible for mapping the vision and direction for the Collection, including developing programming for scholarly access and public education. One of his most important roles, however, will be to mentor future King scholars.

Though Carson's new responsibilities will be largely administrative, he also will teach a seminar at Morehouse on the "Life and Thought of Martin Luther King, Jr."

"When the College began looking for someone to manage oversight of the Morehouse College Martin Luther King Jr. Collection, we knew that the ideal candidate would be able to develop and implement a strategic plan for the Collection and raise the visibility in the local and national community,” said Robert M. Franklin, president of Morehouse. “We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Carson to the Morehouse College faculty. He is a preeminent King scholar and brings to Morehouse time-proven expertise and vitality around this project,” he said.

For Carson, coming to Morehouse to head the Collection is serendipitous. He has been working with King’s personal writings since 1985, when the late Coretta Scott King asked him to direct a long-term project to edit and publish the papers of King, a 1948 graduate of Morehouse College.

“I’m honored by the opportunity to direct this historic project, which marks a new stage in my decades-long effort to ensure that all of King’s visionary ideas will be available for future generations,” Carson said.

Morehouse has been the steward of the Collection since 2006. It is the most comprehensive collection of King’s personal writings and books spanning from1946 to 1968 and includes thousands of King’s personal documents, notes, speeches and books from his personal library. Approximately 7,000 pieces of the Collection are handwritten items, including an early draft of the famous “I Have a Dream” speech, the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize speech and nearly 100 handwritten sermons from the 1950s and 1960s, some of which have never been published or studied before.

Scholarly Access Now Available
After nearly two years of dedicated work, the Robert W. Woodruff Library (RWWL) has organized and digitized 75 percent of the world-class Collection. The RWWL has served as archival custodian of the Collection since September 2006.

“Preserving and providing access to this Collection has been an honor for the Woodruff Library staff,” said Loretta Parham, RWWL CEO & Director. “Bringing this portion of Dr. King’s legacy to the world was a task staff approached with much reverence and the utmost professionalism. I believe the results of their efforts reflect well on Morehouse College, the Atlanta University Center and the library and archival professions.”

The Woodruff archival staff has created a state-of-the art Finding Aid and Digital Collection using the Archivists’ Toolkit and OCLC Contentdm©. By using the new Finding Aid and Digital Collection, the serious researcher and casual scholar will have the ability to view descriptions of every manuscript item in the Morehouse King Collection from anywhere in the world.

“The sheer volume and detail within the finding aid entries far surpass the norm for a collection of comparable size and will be invaluable to the scholarly community and community at-large,” Parham said.

Further, the quality, quantity and detail of the images within the Morehouse Digital Collection available for on-site review at the Woodruff Library are unmatched by any other King collection, Parham said.

Central to the development of the Morehouse King Collection Finding Aid and Digital Collection was the creation of the MLK Jr. Archival Collaborative, a partnership between the RWWL, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center (HGARC) at Boston University and Stanford University’s Martin Luther King Jr., Research & Education Institute. With funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the three institutions focused on the collaborative development of digital finding aids that could cross-reference related, similar or even identical items in the King collections housed at Woodruff and the HGARC.

Descriptions and terminology created through Stanford’s King Papers Project were instrumental in the completion of the Morehouse King Collection Finding Aid and a similar one in development at HGARC. Once both finding aids are complete, the Collaborative will move toward creating a one-of-a-kind Web interface to support the simultaneous, electronic search of multiple King collections.

History of the Collection
A group of Atlanta business and civic leaders, led by Mayor Shirley Franklin, raised $32 million to purchase the Collection just before it was to have gone up for auction at Sotheby’s in 2006. The deal brought the Collection home to Atlanta, the cradle of the civil rights movement and King’s birthplace. It was the wishes of the King Estate that the Collection be donated to Morehouse, from which King graduated in 1948.

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