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New exhibit of King papers shed light on "Dream"

By Staff
Google Oneindia News

ATLANTA, Jan 13 (Reuters) A major new exhibition of Martin Luther King's personal papers reveals the years of work that lay behind his ''I Have a Dream'' speech that has come to symbolize the US civil rights movement.

The exhibition of 600 documents at the Atlanta History Center is the largest display of the papers since they were bought from the King family by an Atlanta consortium on behalf of Morehouse College last June for 32 million dollar.

Displays of speeches and sermons King wrote in longhand and annotated notes on scraps of paper show how he formulated principles of nonviolence as a means to overcome the brutal system of racial segregation that prevailed in the South.

Books that King started reading in the 1950s, making notes in the margins, show how his ''dream'' evolved. The earliest references he made were to shattered dreams, Elizabeth Muller, the exhibition curator, said yesterday.

''There were 10 years of creation before 'I Have a Dream.' You can see all these threads come together in the speech,'' she said of the speech that capped the 1963 civil rights march on Washington.

Drafts show how King worked on the speech with aides the night before, struggling to get it down to the five minutes allotted to each speaker.

But the speech's landmark final section was delivered extemporaneously after gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who was standing close to King, told him to tell the crowd about his ''dream,'' Muller said.

At that point, King departed from his prepared text and began to speak without notes, weaving together ideas from speeches he had delivered previously and drawing on a deep tradition of African-American preaching.

King's principal biographers have had little access to the collection of 10,000 papers at Morehouse, but the exhibition would not likely lead to a substantial revision of how he was perceived by historians, Muller said.

''It (the exhibition) is a reaffirmation of what we know about King. These papers are the core. They show how his philosophy developed from its earliest days,'' Muller said before the exhibition's opening on Monday, the official Martin Luther King national holiday.

The exhibition traces King's life from his school days -- a report card shows he barely managed a passing grade for public speaking -- through the civil rights movement until the sermon he delivered the night before he was assassinated in 1968.

Papers include an early fragment of his ''Letter from Birmingham Jail,'' his best-known essay, which he wrote in jail in Alabama and smuggled out for publication.


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