WSFA 12 News Special Report: The King Papers

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is well documented in history books. As of January new details about King and his work were made available to the public.

The documents, now a part of the Morehouse College Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection, have never been seen before, until now. Thanks to the power of technology you can now view them online.

Many of the documents covers the Civil Rights leader's time as pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and his involvement in the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

In what became his most iconic speech ever, Dr. King's 1963 marched on Washington, D.C turned the steps of the Lincoln Memorial into his pulpit. His message: Equality for all.

Before he took his message to the masses, though, he wrote sermons and delivered them from the pulpit of the small Baptist church on Dexter Avenue in Montgomery.

"The sermons show a very early version of Dr. King that many people aren't familiar with," explained Courtney Chartier, a MLK Collection Archivist.

There are thousands of hand written documents and hundreds of King's sermons, many written for Sunday service at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, and they're on display in the archives of the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center.

These priceless links to King, never seen by the public, are so protected that WSFA 12 News cameras were not allowed to shoot them for this story.

"What's special here is that you can learn about Dr. King as a thinker and as an academic and how seriously he took his work," said Chartier.

King became pastor of Dexter in 1954. During our research in Atlanta archivists helped us search through the mountains of information to find king's acceptance address which he gave to the church's congregation.

It was hand-written and on one sheet of paper, front and back. He told the congregation, he accepted the pastorate dreadfully aware of the tremendous responsibility that accompanied it. He went on to say: "Dexter, like all other churches, must lead men and women of a "decadent" generation to the high mountain of peace and salvation."

The address also revealed that King thought of himself as a simple preacher who's job was simply to lead his new congregation. "I come to you with nothing so special to offer. I have no pretence to being a great preacher or profound scholar...Ii come to you with only the claim of being a servant of Christ and a feeling of dependency on this grace from my leadership," he wrote.

"I think when he came to Dexter, because it was such a difficult pastorate," Chartier said "[Dexter] was known for having such high standards for it's ministers and also for being known as a church that didn't embrace controversy."

But the young preacher who only wanted to lead his church would lead the nation in the tumultuous Civil Rights movement. Less than a year after settling in as pastor King became President of the Montgomery Improvement Association, the group that organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

King's new responsibilities as president unexpectedly catapulted him into the spotlight. It also took him away from his young family and his responsibilities at the church.

In his annual report to the church he wrote:

"Due to the multiplicity of my duties that have come to me as a result of my involvement in the protest I have often lagged behind in my pastoral duties. Yet, with a real sense of dedication to the cause you have expressed a deep sympathetic understanding. You have carried on in my absence you have given words of encouragement when I needed them most."

But, the pressures of travel and his responsibilities to his congregation at the church would soon take a toll and King would be faced with some difficult decisions. There was a lot riding on King's shoulders. In fact,  he even considered abandoning the bus boycott after his home was bombed and his family was threatened.

Thursday on WSFA 12 News at 10:00 we'll share with you what we uncovered about his struggle with the bus boycott and his leadership at the church.