Stanford University The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute
Featured Documents

Updated weekly on Tuesdays, the Featured Document of the Week series highlights particular King documents that we've annotated and are of considerable interest. Feel free to leave comments in our Facebook page regarding the documents and what topics you want to see featured!

“The Negro is Part of That Huge Community Who Seek New Freedom in Every Area of Life”, 1 February 1959

This week's featured document is an article written by Dr. King in response to critics regarding the use and philosophy of nonviolence and its relation to the larger Civil Rights movement.

Sit-ins, 12 August 2008

The sit-ins started on 1 February 1960, when four black students from North Carolina A&T College sat down at a Woolworth lunch counter in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina. The students—Joseph McNeil, Izell Blair, Franklin McCain, and David Richmond—purchased several items in the store before sitting at the counter reserved for white customers. When a waitress asked them to leave, they politely refused; to their surprise, they were not arrested. The four students remained seated for almost an hour until the store closed.

“Don’t Ride the Bus,” the Montgomery bus boycott begins, 5 December 2011

Initially planned as a one day boycott of Montgomery’s buses, in response to the arrest and conviction of Rosa Parks on December 1, the boycott far exceeded the organizer's expectations and continued for the next year.

“My Pilgrimage to Nonviolence”, 1 September 1958

This shortened version of chapter six of Stride Toward Freedom appeared in the September issue of Fellowship. In it, King traces the philosophical and theological underpinnings of his commitment to nonviolence, stating that “Gandhi was probably the first person in history to let the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale.”

Press release from SNCC calling for the release of Dr. King and student protestors, 31 October 2011

In support of the sit-in movement, Dr. King participated along side hundreds of students as they demonstrated against segregation through out major businesses in Atlanta, Ga. In this press release from SNCC, an appeal is made for people across the nation to write letters to local government officials calling for the release of those arrested.

“When Peace Becomes Obnoxious,” Sermon Delivered on 18 March 1956, 29 March 1956

The Sunday before his trial, King sharply criticized the University of Alabama's decision to suspend black student Autherine Lucy from its campus due to fears of mob violence. While acknowledging that demonstrations raise tension, King contends that true peace "is not merely the absence of some negative force" such as war, but "is the presence of some positive force--justice, goodwill, the power of the Kingdom of God." (3/23/10)

“Can a Christian Be a Communist?” Sermon Delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church, 30 September 1962

While refuting Communism's athetistic and materialistic worldview as inadequate means, King's sermon expresses admiration for its ends and challenges the church to have a similar social concern. Admitting that the church "has too often been the opiate of the people," King calls for his congregation to live out a social gospel. Regarding capitalism, King notes that "there are too many people in America concerned about making a living rather than making a life.... We must make money to live, but we must always remember that money is just an ingredient in the objective which we seek in life." (6/29/10)

“King Says Vision Told Him to Lead Integration Forces”, 28 January 1957

A special double-entry! On 27 January 1956, King had a spiritual crisis moment where he describes that he "heard a voice that morning saying to me: "Preach the Gospel, stand up for the truth, stand up for righteousness." A few nights later, his home was bombed-- yet King was able to quell retaliatory violence. These two primary source accounts detail the two events in our Featured Document(s) of the week! (1/26/10, click HERE for “Blast Rocks Residence of Bus Boycott Leader,” by Joe Azbell)

Interview after Release from Georgia State Prison at Reidsville, [27 October 1960]

In October 1960, only weeks before the Presidential election, Dr. King was arrested and convicted for a probation violation after participating in a sit-in in Atlanta. Following the recommendations of campaign advisors, presidential candidate, John F. Kennedy, called Coretta Scott King to offer his sympathy and his brother, Robert F. Kennedy, made phone calls that helped hasten King’s release on bail from Georgia State Prison at Reidsville. On election day, Kennedy defeated Nixon by less than one percent of the popular vote, a margin of victory that highlighted the importance of African American support.

Remarks Delivered at Africa Freedom Dinner at Atlanta University, 13 May 1959

This week's featured document again emphasizes King's global perspective of the civil rights movement. According to King, "what we are trying to do in the South and in the United States is a part of this worldwide struggle for freedom and human dignity. Our struggle is not an isolated struggle; it is not a detached struggle, but it is a part of 1959 the worldwide revolution for freedom and justice." (6/22/10)

“My Trip to the Land of Gandhi”, July 1959

This week's featured document contains King's own account of his 1959 trip to India. King states, "I left India more convinced than ever before that non-violent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom," after meeting Gandhi's family and his disciples. King also calls on America to assist India in its goal to modernize, "to help India preserve her soul and thus help to save our own." (6/15/10)

Garden of Gethsemane, Sermon Delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, [14 April 1957]

In honor of Passion Week, this week's featured document is King's Palm Sunday sermon from 1957. King draws upon Jesus' experience to encourage his congregation to struggle through difficult times. In his conclusion, King states: "Wherever He leads me, I will follow. I will follow Him to the garden. I will follow Him to the cross if He wants me to go there. I will follow Him to the dark valleys of death if He wants me to go there. Not my will, but Thy will be done." (3/30/10)

Palm Sunday Sermon on Mohandas K. Gandhi, Delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, [22 March 1959]

In honor of King's 1959 India trip, which we will cover more next month, this week's featured document is a doozy-- King's honoring of Gandhi, interpretation of the India independence movement, and on top of that, his own emerging interfaith views. There's a lot to absorb/talk about in this week's document-- from King honoring Gandhi as "the greatest Christian of the twentieth century" to the efficacy of nonviolence to King's dwelling on Gandhi's assassintation. (2/23/10)

“Pilgrimage to Nonviolence”, 13 April 1960

In honor of our upcoming conference on global peace, social justice, and sustainability in July 2010, this week's featured document contains the classic "Pilgrimage to Nonviolence" that details King's gradual acceptance of nonviolence. King writes, "More and more I have come to the conclusion that the potential destructiveness of modern weapons of war totally rules out the possibility of war ever serving again as a negative good. If we assume that mankind has a right to survive then we must find an alternative to war and destruction." This version comes from the April 1960 Christian Century issue. (5/4/10)

“An Autobiography of Religious Development”, [12 September - 22 November 1950]

As a student in seminary, King was assigned to write his "religious autobiography." King details a "very congenial home situation" and generally fortunate background, noting that "it is quite easy for me to think of a God of love mainly because I grew up in a family where love was central and where lovely relationships were ever present." He also described his relatively mundane conversion experience and adolescent struggles with fundamentalist thought, before finishing with his call to the ministry. (6/8/10)

To Coretta Scott, 18 July 1952

After an apparent disagreement, a 23-year old Martin Luther King writes his girlfriend Coretta a letter that variously expresses his affection toward her, explains his social philosophy, and urges her to visit his family in August. King writes: "Let us continue to hope, work, and pray that in the future we will live to see a warless world, a better distribution of wealth, and a brotherhood that transcends race or color. This is the gospel that I will preach to the world." (6/1/10)

“Preaching Ministry”, [14 September - 24 November 1948]

This week's featured document focuses on King's outline on preaching, written as a student at Crozer Theological Seminary. In his third point, King outlines his two goals as a preacher-- to both "change the soul of individuals" and "attempt to change the societies.... Therefore, I must be concerened about unemployment, [slums], and economic insecurity. I am a profound advocator of the social gospel." (5/25/10)

“Give Us the Ballot,” Address at the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom**, 17 May 1957

In honor of the 17 May 1954 Brown v. Board decision, this week's featured document is King's speech at the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, given three years after Brown. King's speech, which lifted him into the national eye, stated that "there is a dire need today for a liberalism which is truly liberal" rather than one "so objectively analytical that it is not subjectively committed." This is also the same famous speech where King used the set piece "give us the ballot" to urge legislation guaranteeing the right to vote. (5/18/10)

“Suffering and Faith”, 27 April 1960

This week's featured document is a supplement to "Pilgrimage to Nonviolence," where King mentions the impact his suffering had on his thinking. According to King, "As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways that I could respond to my situation: either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course" and live "with the conviction that unearned suffering is redemptive." (5/11/10)

“Mother’s Day in Montgomery,” by Almena Lomax, 18 May 1956

Happy Mothers' Day! To celebrate, we present King's 1956 Mother's Day sermon, given on the day of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. King uses the time to encourage mothers to teach their children "a sense of dignity, of self respect" and a desire for excellence. King notes that "There have always been mothers who could see the vision... who didn’t know the difference between ‘you does’ and ‘you don’t,’ but who wanted their offspring to ‘get it all’… Mothers not only ought to be praised for their greatness, but for keeping on." (5/9/10)

“The Burning Truth in the South”, May 1960

This week's featured document concludes our April 1960 look at SNCC and the lunch-counter sit-in, with King's May 1960 article on the student movement. In it, he claims that "The outcome of the present struggle will be some time in unfolding, but the line of its direction is clear....Tension and conflict are not alien ...nor abnormal to growth but are the natural results of the process of changes." Let us know your thoughts on SNCC, the student movement, and its impact on today! (4/27/10)

To Allan Knight Chalmers, 18 April 1960

This week's featured document is a personal letter King wrote to one of his professors in 1960, commenting on how the pressures of his intense schedule prevented him from needed reflection time. In King's words, "my whole life seems to be centered around giving something out and only rarely taking something in....My failure to reflect will do harm not only to me as a person, but to the total movement." (4/20/10)

“Statement to the Press at the Beginning of the Youth Leadership Conference”, 15 April 1960

In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee on Thursday, this week's featured document is King's statement on the opening day of the youth conference fifty years ago. According to King, "The student sit-in movement represents just such an offensive in the history of the Negro peoples’ struggle for freedom. The students have taken the struggle for justice into their own strong hands." (4/13/10)

Questions That Easter Answers, Sermon Delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, [21 April 1957]

As a tribute to the 42nd anniversary of King's assassination, King's 1957 Easter Sunday sermon seems fitting to me in its portrayal of ultimate hope. King often used the Easter story to demonstrate that while "Good Friday may occupy the throne for a day, but ultimately it must give way to the triumphant beat of the drums of Easter."-- and that "death is not the end" to life. Please post your reflections on our Facebook link! (4/4/10)

Reactions to Conviction, [22 March 1956]

Following his $500 fine for violating Alabama's antiboycott law, King gave a short press conference explaining his decision to appeal. King defends the boycott as standing under the "aegis of the constitution" and expresses faith in nonviolent action. (3/16/10)

Interview with Etta Moten Barnett, [6 March 1957]

This week's document is also related to King's 1957 Ghana trip. Regarding the question whether Ghana was ready for independence, King replied: "I often feel like saying, when I hear the question 'People aren’t ready,' that it’s like telling a person who is trying to swim, 'Don’t jump in that water until you learn how to swim.' When actually you will never learn how to swim until you get in the water." (3/9/10)

“The Birth of a New Nation,” Sermon Delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, [7 April 1957]

This week's featured document highlights King's March 1957 trip to Ghana to celebrate the African nation's new independence from Britain. In his sermon, given a month later, King describes the joyous celebration of Ghana and points to its independence as hope for the American civil rights movement. Acknowledging that while "the opressor never voluntarily gives freedom to the oppressed," Ghana's freedom represents an old order passing away. (3/2/10)

Valentine’s Day Telegram to Coretta King, 14 February 1957

In honor of Valentine's Day, this week's featured document is the 1957 Valentine's Day telegram King sent to his wife Coretta calling her "the sweetest and most lovely wife and mother in all the world." King was at a planning meeting for what would become the SCLC at that time. Enjoy! (2/16/10)

“Conquering Self-Centeredness,” Sermon Delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, [11 August 1957]

This week's featured document is one of King's sermon's urging his congregation to live not for themselves but for a greater purpose. In the sermon, King confesses that he struggles with his newfound fame, entertaining the "dangerous tendency" that he had an intrinsic, earned importance. At those times, King uttered a simple prayer: "O God, help me to see that where I stand today, I stand because others helped me to stand there and because the forces of history projected me there. And this moment would have come in history even if M. L. King had never been born." (2/9/10)

“A Creative Protest”, 16 February 1960

Yesterday marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Greensboro, S.C. lunch counter sit-in demonstration by four college students, marking the beginning of a vibrant student movement. Our featured document of the week, in response, covers a speech King gave to the students two weeks after, praising them for taking their "honored places in the world-wide struggle for freedom." To learn more about the sit-ins, also see the King Encyclopedia entry on the sit-ins in the sidebar of the document! (2/2/10)

“Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” Address at Morehouse College Commencement, [2 June 1959]

In response to the Haiti earthquake and the resulting aid efforts, this week's featured document reminds us of King's international outlook. King reminds his audience that "Because of our involvement in humanity, we must be concerned about every human being" and that "in the final analysis, all life is interrelated," and calls for action rather than to be caught "sleeping through a revolution." (1/19/10)

“A Look to the Future,” Address Delivered at Highlander Folk School, 2 September 1957

As we approach the King Holiday, we are reminded of both the incredible progress made and the amount of work left to be done. In perhaps his most oft-given speech, King emphasized both the need to keep striving for the "daybreak of freedom of justice" with hope resulting from concrete gains of the past. This week's featured document is "A Look To The Future," which King gave on 2 September 1957 at Highlander Folk School and published in Volume IV of our King Papers. (for more information on HFS, see the King Encyclopedia entry in the sidebar). (1/12/10)

“Our God Is Able”, [1 January 1956]

Welcome to the new year! 54 years ago, a 26-year old pastor gave a New Years Day sermon encouraging his congregation that God was capable, in the midst of a then-several week old bus boycott that would last over a year. The sermon outline (also published in Volume VI) is our featured document of the week! (1/5/10)

After Christmas, What?, [28 December 1952]

As we approach the holiday season, here's some food for thought from a sermon outline of King's. In the sermon (published in Volume VI of our Papers of Martin Luther King), King challenges his audience to not just celebrate Christ's birth but live transformed lives.

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