Logan Walters wasn't looking for anything in particular as he shuffled through a box of papers donated to USI's Rice Library Communal Studies Collection, but when he saw the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's (SCLC) letterhead, he stopped. Scanning to the bottom of the page, Walters said, "I think I have a Martin Luther King, Jr. signature."
Walters was a sophomore enrolled in the history course, Introduction to Archive Theory, at the time of the discovery. The course instructor Jennifer Greene, Rice Library archives and reference librarian, and Walters' classmates reacted first with disbelief and then excitement. "History comes to life when you see a real signature and read the actual words put down by a man as wise and poetic as Martin Luther King, Jr.," Greene said.
The letter is part of the Skyview Acres Cooperative Collection donated to USI in fall 2013. Skyview was one of the first integrated communities in the United States, founded in 1946 in New York. Its original members included a number of peace activists, including George Hauser, co-founder of the Congress of Racial Equality who, along with Bayard Rustin, led the 1947 interracial bus journey that became the model for the 1960s Freedom Rides.
In a letter addressed to King at the SCLC in Atlanta, Georgia, Irving Wolfe, then-president of Skyview Acres, wrote, "We are enclosing a check for $576.56, which is the proceeds of a block party we held for the benefit of SCLC on July 14th. About 400 men, women and children from all over this country turned out for the event and all had a fine time."
King responds, "Without your moral support we would be caught in a dungeon of despair without knowing that many people all over the nation are supporting us in our struggle. By aiding us in this significant way, you are telling the world that the rights of Negroes cannot be trampled in any community without impairing the rights of every other American."
Both letters were written in July 1963, one month before King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech on the National Mall. King concludes, "I am confident that if we continue to gain this type of support, this sweltering summer of discontent can be transformed into an invigorating autumn of justice and freedom for all people."
Greene said it's gratifying to find a treasure in any collection, "but this particular find was something everyone can appreciate and understand. It always makes me wonder, what else is laying undiscovered in our collections?"