Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Birmingham Public Library Gains Worldwide Attention for Its MLK Civil Rights Archives

A group of students visits the Archives Department to view the Birmingham Jail docket that
shows Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 1963 arrest

As the nation pauses on Wednesday, April 4, 2018, to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Birmingham Public Library (BPL) has been busy helping researchers paying tribute to the legacy of the man who led the 1960s civil rights movement in Birmingham that gained worldwide attention.

Jim Baggett shows Ven. Geshe Lhakdor, director
of the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, bomb
fragments and shrapnel from the bombing of the
Bethel Baptist Church
In addition to researchers from the Birmingham area and other parts of Alabama, BPL’s Archives and Manuscripts Department served researchers in 2017 from 26 states (from New York to California, Florida to Washington) and Canada, England, Ireland, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, and Switzerland, said Jim Baggett, department head of the Archives Department. BPL’s archives preserves thousands of historic documents relating to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life and work, including early versions of "The Letter from Birmingham Jail," Birmingham police reports on King's appearances at civil rights mass meetings, the city jail docket showing King's 1963 arrest for leading civil rights demonstrations, and a rare copy of King's funeral program.

“During the year, our researchers used 75,534 archival files, scrapbooks, ledgers, dockets, photographs, maps, architectural drawings, and other items from the collection,” Baggett said. "Twelve new books researched in the archives were published in 2017.”

That raises the total to more than 400 books researched in the Archives Department, including five recipients of the Pulitzer Prize, as well as five documentary films and three museum exhibits. Two Pulitzer Prize-winning biographies of King—David Garrow's Bearing the Cross and Taylor Branch's Parting on the Waters—were researched in the BPL archives, Baggett said. During a talk at BPL shortly after the publication of Parting on the Waters,  Branch said, "I could not have written this book without the collections in the Birmingham Public Library Archives."

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