An Insider’s Guide to the “Man Behind the Movement”
by Dr. Vicki Crawford
“Man Behind the Movement” is an extraordinary gathering of documents that provides a rare glimpse into the private life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The exhibition is open through August 30 at the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta.
While the 13,000-piece Morehouse College Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection contains an unparalleled array of documents reflecting Dr. King’s rise to national and international prominence, the current exhibit featured in the Voice to the Voiceless gallery at The Center explores a lesser known aspect of the global leader’s life. In this exhibition, we view how the civil rights leader lived day-to-day – away from the cameras and constant media scrutiny that trailed him for most of his life. We also recognize and acknowledge how important family, friends and colleagues were to Dr. King’s life, and we get a sense of the personal impact he had on them, too.
This exhibition’s focus on Dr. King’s private life gives us a deeper appreciation for the close-knit bonds among African American families of his time and generation. Featured correspondence between Dr. King and his father, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr., suggests a loving and supportive relationship between father and son. Signed greeting cards from King’s wife, Coretta, along with correspondence to her while King was incarcerated in a Reidsville, Georgia prison suggests volumes about his thoughts and concerns for his pregnant wife during those difficult days. A birthday telegram from brother A. D. King is included, along with several rare family photographs of sister, Christine Farris, and Coretta and Martin Luther King, Jr. and their four children. One of the jewels of this gathering of memorabilia is an Ebony magazine spread which features Dr. and Mrs. King on vacation in Jamaica, where we see the young King lounging poolside with his wife, but still finding it hard to unwind. Later in his career, as he steals time to complete his final book, correspondence between King and his devoted secretary, Dora McDonald, suggests that she is very concerned that he has little time for rest.
Along with strong family ties, enduring friendships anchored and sustained Dr. King throughout his life. Correspondence between him and internationally renowned writer John Steinbeck is a captivating highlight. In an extraordinary, well-crafted handwritten letter from Morehouse College President Benjamin E. Mays, King’s lifelong intellectual and spiritual mentor, he warns King to be very careful following the death of President John F. Kennedy. Finally, another set of featured documents and artifacts reflects King’s travels, as well as his love for books and music, gently inviting us into the inner world where the global leader remained inspired, reaffirmed and strengthened.
Dr. Vicki Crawford is the Director of the Morehouse College Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection.