Martin Luther King Jr.’s Legacy at Washington University

On the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, we’d like to celebrate his legacy and highlight some of the resources available in Washington University Libraries’ Special Collections.

Martin Luther King, Jr. with Ralph Abernathy and others during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Photo from the Henry Hampton Collection, Washington University Libraries.

In 1957 Martin Luther King, Jr. visited St. Louis and spoke at the Washington University Assembly Series. Special Collections staff recently discovered a transcript of this speech in the American Civil Liberties of Missouri Records. No known audio of this speech exists so the transcript can shed light on this earlier period of King’s life and work. In the speech King employed his masterful oratorical style to comment on the political situation in 1957 while referencing classical Greek philosophy, Shakespeare, and poetry by Langston Hughes. King provided a current context for his audience while helping them focus on the goals of the civil rights movement.

Transcript of Address by Martin Luther King at Washington University, Dec. 4, 1957

Another rich source of material relating to Martin Luther King, Jr. is the Film & Media Archive which houses collection of Henry Hampton, executive producer and creator of Eyes on the Prize. Within the preserved and digitized interviews relating to this series, viewers can watch full interviews with Dr. King’s friends, family members, and colleagues many of whom speak about key moments in Dr. King’s life.

Still from an interview with Coretta Scott King from Eyes on the Prize, Henry Hampton Collection.

Still from an interview with Ralph Abernathy from Eyes on the Prize, Henry Hampton Collection.

Highlights include an interview with Dr. King’s wife Coretta Scott King, his longtime friends and Southern Christian Leadership Conference colleagues, Rev. Ralph Abernathy and Rev. Andrew Young who were both with him when he was assassinated, other civil rights activists C.T. Vivian, Stokely Carmichael, also know as Kwame Ture, Charles Sherrod, James Forman, John Lewis.

There are also interviews with local leaders and other participants in many of the campaigns Dr. King was instrumental in organizing and leading, including local businessman A.G. Gaston. Sheyann Webb and Rachel West Nelson who participated in the Selma voting rights campaign when they were children also share their memories of Dr. King. Some of these interviewees were only interviewed for Eyes on the Prize and taken all together these primary source interviews create a multi-faceted portrait of not only the leader and activist, but also the man.

A full list of interviewees who talk about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. can be found here on WU Libraries’ Digital Gateway.

About the author

Reference and Outreach Supervisor in Special Collections.