Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
An agreement reached last month by the children of Martin Luther King Jr. to sell some of their father’s papers has reassured many Atlantans that the civil rights leader’s documents will remain in his hometown. But some historians and legal scholars have expressed concern that the agreement doesn’t go far enough to make many important King papers accessible to the public. A group of Atlanta leaders, including Mayor Shirley Franklin and former Mayor Andrew Young, reached an agreement with the King estate on June 23 to acquire more than 7,000 documents in King’s handwriting for $32 million. The papers will be stored at Morehouse College, King’s alma mater. The agreement pre-empted an auction planned at Sotheby’s. The New York auction house had estimated the King papers would fetch between $15 million and $30 million. The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta formed a limited-liability company to acquire title to the papers, says partner Ben Johnson III of Alston & Bird, which represented the consortium. Johnson adds that title will later be transferred to Morehouse. The foundation obtained only the physical possession of the papers, not the copyrights to King’s work. That’s problematic, says former Emory University law professor David Garrow, author of Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Researchers have had difficulty obtaining permission to quote from the papers. “The behavior of the King estate over the last 10 years has created a climate of fear and intimidation among people interested in quoting King’s words,” says Garrow. But Stanford University professor Clayborne Carson, senior editor of the multivolume The Papers of Martin Luther King Jr., is blunt in dismissing this concern. “Anyone who asks for permission to quote Dr. King’s words is stupid to ask for permission,” says Carson, who was chosen by Coretta Scott King to select and publish documents from her late husband’s papers. If a scholar wants to quote the entire “I Have a Dream” speech, he should obtain the Kings’ permission because quoting the entire speech is not “fair use,” Carson says, but approval isn’t necessary to quote smaller excerpts. In 2038, 70 years after King’s death, the King papers will fall into the public domain, notes University of Georgia law professor David Shipley. But “just because there is no longer a copyright doesn’t mean you have to be given access to the papers,” he says. “I could own a one-of-a-kind manuscript written by Mark Twain, but I am not mandated to make it available to everyone.” Atlanta historian Ralph Luker, co-editor of two volumes of The Papers of Martin Luther King Jr., points out that Morehouse has restricted access to other important historical papers. Notably, says Luker, Morehouse has an undocumented collection of papers from its former president, Benjamin Mays, that is not housed in a climate-controlled building and has not been made available to scholars. The King family has placed no restrictions on Morehouse’s plans for displaying the papers or making them available for scholarly research, says Phillip Jones, senior policy adviser to the King family estate and the nonprofit King Center. He adds, “We and Mayor Franklin and Andrew Young are confident that Morehouse will manage the papers well.” �DREAM’ DRAFT The papers going to Morehouse are all written in King’s own handwriting. They include drafts of his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, and his 1963 “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” Not included are “hundreds, possibly thousands” of boxes of other documents now stored at the King Center, Garrow says. These documents, which include letters from other civil rights leaders, should not be separated from the handwritten documents, he says. Jones, the King family adviser, acknowledges that collections of King’s documents are stored at the King Center. He says they were not included in the sale because they belong to the center, not the family. Kilpatrick Stockton represented the King family in the sale. The firm also represented the King estate in litigation against CBS over the network’s marketing of videotapes that included a large portion of the “I Have a Dream” speech.
Andy Peters is a staff reporter for the Daily Report , an ALM publication based in Atlanta where this article first ran.

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.