Stanford University The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute
Editorial Principles and Practices


The central goal of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers Project is to produce an authoritative, multi-volume edition of King’s works. The edition contains accurate, annotated transcriptions of King’s most important sermons, speeches, correspondence, published writings, unpublished manuscripts, and other papers, and is in general arranged chronologically.

We assign highest priority to King’s writings, public statements, and publications, although such materials may not be included when they repeat significant portions of the text of other documents from the period. When one of King’s sermons or addresses is available in different versions, we prefer recordings rather than printed or published transcripts, complete versions rather than excerpts, and versions that have greater rather than lesser public impact. We also include correspondence containing significant information about King’s thought or activities and incoming letters illuminating his relationships with or impact on others. We generally exclude office-generated replies, mass mailings, and unsolicited incoming letters, except in the few instances when such letters are of exceptional interest or provoked a personal reply from King.

Editorial Annotations 

Documents are introduced by a title, date, and place of origin. Existing titles are used when available and are designated by quotation marks. For untitled items, we have created descriptive titles reflecting their content (e.g., Wedding Prayer). When necessary we have corrected titles with errors or irregularities in punctuation, capitalization, and spelling and we have standardized names, but these titles are not designated by quotation marks. In addition, descriptive titles that appear on the document are similarly designated with quotation marks ("e.g., "Address at Public Meeting of the Southern Christian Ministers Conference at Mississippi"). Sermon or speech titles indicate the occasion of the address. In correspondence, the title contains the author (e.g., From John Steinbeck) or recipient (e.g., To Coretta Scott), leaving King’s participation implied. When the date was not specified on the document but has been determined through research, it is rendered in italics and enclosed in square brackets. When a specific date could not be determined through research, we have provided a range date. If the place of origin appears on the document, it is included; if not and it could be determined through research, it is provided for King-authored documents only.

Annotations are intended to enhance readers’ understanding of documents. Headnotes preceding documents provide information necessary to the reader’s understanding, and call attention to the overall significance of the document; in the case of longer documents a brief summary may be offered. Editorial footnotes explain specific references to individuals, organizations, events, literary quotations, biblical allusions, and other references in the document, as well as relevant correspondence or related documents. Biographical sketches describe the background and relationship to King of individuals who corresponded with him or are mentioned prominently in documents. We have not included such sketches for individuals featured in previous volumes. Editorial footnotes, on occasion, refer to alternative accounts of events and to variations among versions (e.g., sentences altered or added by King when he modified a sermon or address for a different occasion). Marginal notes on the document, particularly those written by King, are also noted. Annotations may contain implicit or abbreviated references to documents (e.g., "King replied in a 20 October 1959 letter"); full bibliographic information for such documents can be found in the Calendar of Documents. Biblical citations in footnotes refer to the King James version of the Bible unless King drew on another version in the text. In citations that might refer to the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, we have chosen one bible text that best represents King’s intent.

The source note following each document provides information on the characteristics of the original document and its provenance. Codes are used to describe the document s format, type, version, and form of signature. The code ADS, for example, identifies the document as one written in the author’s hand with a signature. The location of the original document is described next, using standard abbreviations from USMARC Code List for Organizations. (See List of Abbreviations for all codes used.) The source notes for documents located in King’s sermon file also include the folders’ titles. Folder labels handwritten by King appear in quotation marks.

Transcription Practices

Transcriptions are intended to reproduce all documents accurately, adhering to the exact wording and punctuation of the original. In general, errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar, which may offer important insights into the author’s state of mind and conditions under which a document was composed, have been neither corrected nor indicated by sic. Capitalization, boldface, subscripts, abbreviations, hyphenation, strikeouts, ellipses, and symbols are likewise replicated.

This rule has certain exceptions, however. Single-letter emendations by the author have been silently incorporated, and typographical errors, such as malformed and superimposed characters, have been corrected. In published documents, spelling and grammatical errors have been retained unless an earlier draft revealed the author’s intention. Moreover, some formatting practices such as outlining, underlining, paragraph indentation, and spacing between words or lines of text have been regularized to maintain consistency within the edition (e.g., continuous rather than discontinuous underscoring). Em-dashes, which appeared in several styles in the original manuscripts, have been regularized. The overall appearance of the source document (e.g., line breaks, pagination, vertical and horizontal spacing, end-of-line hyphenation) has not been replicated, and some features that could not be readily reproduced such as letterheads and typographic variations are described in annotations (in a few cases, visually interesting documents such as sermon outlines or book inscriptions have been reproduced as facsimiles).The internal address, salutation, and complimentary closing of a letter have been reproduced left-aligned, regardless of the original format. Insertions in the text by the author (usually handwritten) are indicated by curly braces ({ }) and placed as precisely as possible within the text. Hand-drawn lines separating text in a document or page breaks are indicated by inserting a space in the text. Telegrams are rendered using small capital letters.

Editorial explanations are rendered in italics and enclosed by square brackets. Conjectural renderings of text are set in italic type followed by a question mark and placed within brackets: [Theres?]. Instances of illegible text are indicated: e.g., [strikeout illegible] or [word illegible]. If the strikeout was by someone other than the author, it has not been replicated, but is described in a footnote. If part of a document is lost, the condition is described: [remainder missing]. In some instances, long documents may be excerpted to highlight passages that were most significant with respect to King. Editorial deletions to eliminate repetitive or extraneous segments are indicated by ellipses or by explanatory comment: [ . . . ] or [King pauses mid-sentence].

The King Papers Project’s transcriptions of audio recordings are intended to replicate, to the extent possible, King’s public statements as they were delivered, excluding only those utterings that do not convey significant meaning (e.g., unintentional stutters and pause words, such as "uh" ). Certain sharply stressed phrases are rendered in italics to indicate the speaker’s emphasis. When available, King’s written text is used to clarify ambiguous phrases and as a guide to delineating sentences, paragraphs, and punctuation. In cases where the written text is not available, we have supplied punctuation for clarity. Transcriptions also attempt to convey some of the quality of the speech event, particularly the interplay between speaker and audience. When practical, audience responses to King’s orations are enclosed in parentheses and placed appropriately within King’s text. Editorial descriptions of audience participation are enclosed in square brackets. The first instance of a verbal audience response to a sermon is indicated as follows: [Congregation:] (Preach). Subsequent audience interjections are enclosed, as is appropriate, in brackets--[applause] or [singing] or [laughter]--or in parentheses: (Yes) or (Lord help him). Multiple audience responses are indicated in order of occurrence, separated with commas: (Tell it, Don’t stop). In addition, transcriptions occasionally suggest the loudness or duration of audience responses: [sustained applause]. In cases where a recording or its transcription is incomplete or unintelligible, that status is indicated within the text proper: e.g., [gap in tape] or [words inaudible].

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