Birmingham Public Library preserves civil rights history

Birmingham Civil Rights
Birmingham Civil Rights
A photo of Reverends Fred Shuttlesworth, Ralph Abernathy  and Martin Luther King , Jr. marching in Birmingham.  One of the many Birmingham Public Library items and documents from the civil rights era. Photo courtesy of the Birmingham Public Library Archives.

Last week , as the world paused to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Birmingham Public Library (BPL) was busy helping researchers  pay tribute to the man who led the 1960s civil rights movement, much of it from Birmingham.

The Birmingham Public Library Archives maintains, preserves and makes available 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.

In 2017, the BPL served researchers from 26 states and and Canada, England, Ireland, Japan, Malaysia, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, and Switzerland, said Jim Baggett, Department head of BPL’s Archives Department. 

“During the year, our researchers used 75,534 archival files, scrapbooks, ledgers, dockets, photographs, maps, architectural drawings, and other items from the collection,” Baggett added.

Birmingham Alabama
Linn-Henley Research Library – Birmingham, Alabama. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now.

According to the BPL, twelve new books researched in the Archives were published in 2017. That raises the total to more than 400 books researched in BPL Archives, 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 also researched in the BPL Archives.

An extraordinary collection of American and Magic City history, the Birmingham Public Library collections are open to the public.  To learn how you can plan a visit to do research at the Archives, follow the following instructions on the BPL website – HERE.

Author: Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.