Martin Luther King Jr. Day
This Monday, hundreds of thousands of San Antonians are participating in what has grown to be the nation’s largest Martin Luther King Jr. Day March. I have participated in the march in previous years, and I’m always impressed by the magnitude of it. Marching in solidarity for peace, equality, justice, and the remembrance of Dr. King with a quarter of a million people is a truly awesome experience.
Despite these previous experiences, nothing ever totally prepared me for the “real thing.” Participating in a present-day march is a very different experience from walking around the neighborhood where Dr. King lived and worked. This past August I traveled to Atlanta, GA, and had the opportunity to visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (“the King Center”). The King Center is a National Historic Site that includes a museum, archives, community/exhibition center, the childhood home of Dr. King, the Ebenezer Baptist Church, and crypt of Dr. and Mrs. King.
While in Atlanta, I also visited the Atlanta University Center, where I enjoyed a tour of the Robert Woodruff Library’s Archives Research Center, which holds the Morehouse College Martin Luther King Jr. Collection, the Tupac Amaru Shakur Collection, and the Atlanta Voter Education Project Collection (a directly related counterpart to UTSA’s Southwest Voter Registration Education Project Collection). Photography was not allowed at the Woodruff Library’s Archives, but complete collection inventories and select digitized content can be seen by following the provided links.
One of the fundamental principles of archives is provenance – basically, the origin or source of archival materials. It drives much of what we do as archivists, including ensuring authenticity of our records, making decisions on how to organize collections, and aiding in greater understanding of collection content. It allows archivists and researchers to quite literally touch history and engage with it in a way that is unique and meaningful.So, with the concept of provenance in mind, it was particularly poignant to visit the King Center and see Dr. King’s personal papers firsthand. I was a bit awestruck and excited, but also felt the immense gravity of the past and its impact on our world today.
“The King Center is dedicated to educating the world on the life, legacy and teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., inspiring new generations to carry forward his unfinished work, strengthen causes and empower change-makers who are continuing his efforts today.” Visiting birthplaces of historical figures and reading the words that they themselves wrote on the very piece of paper you hold in your hand can be powerful experiences that allow us to create intimate connections to the past. Places like the King Center and Archives are places of sustained memories that help us understand the present. How we act and what we do in the present helps keep the work of Dr. King alive.
For a brief history of San Antonio’s MLK Day March, please see this blog post from 2016.