On May 1, Emory University’s Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL) opened the archive of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to the public. The SCLC was founded in 1957 by seminal civil rights leaders including Martin Luther King Jr. in response to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Black leaders in the southeast were cognizant that the boycott was the beginning of a much larger movement and formed the SCLC as a means to coordinate further protest activities. At the first convention, held in Montgomery in August of 1957, the SCLC developed some basic resolutions: the use of nonviolent mass action as a strategic foundation of the movement, affiliation with local community organizations throughout the region, and a commitment to keep the SCLC open to all who wanted to participate, regardless of race, color or creed.
The archive is a collection of 981 boxes of materials that report on the SCLC’s activities from 1968-2007 (the organization is still active today), and includes correspondence, memos, reports and meeting minutes in addition to photographs, flyers, and both audio and visual recordings. Audio recordings include transcripts and other materials from Martin Luther King Speaks, a radio show that aired from 1967-1979. Speeches and lectures by prominent civil rights leaders were aired on the program, but the show explored a range of social issues, including women’s rights and the anti-war movement.
The archive reveals the SCLC’s involvement in a number of other major social issues and causes, such as the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968, the Charleston hospital workers strike of 1969, the Crisis in Health Care for Black and Poor Americans in 1984, the Gun Buyback Program in the 1990s, and the fight against apartheid in the 1980s. The SCLC was also vocal about the Florida voting controversy in the 2004 election.
“I think anyone who is interested in the civil rights movement as an unfinished movement, or as a continuing movement, will find a wealth of information in this collection that really illuminates the efforts to continue fighting for things like voting rights into the 21st century,” said Sarah Quigley, the head archivist for the project.
An exhibition is tentatively planned for spring 2013.