Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Records
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the most influential leaders of the American Civil Rights Movement, leading efforts in support of desegregation, voting rights, and racial equality. He was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (1964), the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1977, posthumous), and the Congressional Gold Medal (2004, posthumous).
Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday
Though U.S. Congressmember John Conyers first called for a federal holiday to honor this great civil rights leader shortly after King’s assassination in 1968, it wasn’t until 1983 that this goal became reality, thanks to Conyers’s persistence, the Congressional Black Caucus’s support, and popular demand.
Things moved more swiftly on the state level: in 1973, Illinois became the first state to declare a Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, and in 1981, California followed suit, thanks to legislation written by Assemblymember Elihu Harris, a Democrat representing several Bay Area cities.
Harris began his political career as a legislative assistant to Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, who in 1966 became the first African American woman elected to the California Assembly. In 1978, Harris was himself elected to the Assembly, where he served for 12 years, focusing on civil rights, criminal justice, poverty, tax reform, and transportation issues. He then went on to serve as Mayor of Oakland from 1991-1999 and as Chancellor of the Peralta Community College District from 2003-2010.
Governor Brown signing legislation to establish Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 1981, Photographs. Elihu Harris Papers, LP366:389, California State Archives, Office of the Secretary of State, Sacramento.
Senate Debate around Creating MLK Holiday from Sacramento Update Radio Show
This excerpt is from a local public radio show called Sacramento Update. The weekly 30 minute show ran from March 1977 to December 1981.These shows discuss the partisan politics and issues other topics include nuclear energy, water conservation policies, Malathion and the Mediterranean fruit fly, Hispanic politics, Southeast Asian immigrants, economic recession and federal budget deficits, and many more. In the August 21, 1981 episode the show highlights the Senate floor debate around making Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, January 15th, a state holiday in California’s schools from an Assembly Bill by Oakland Assemblyman Elihu Harris. The excerpt starts at 7:28 and ends at 12:00.
Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer
Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the most influential leaders of the American Civil Rights Movement. Advocating nonviolent means of protesting racial inequalities, his work combating racial segregation earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. His speech "I Have A Dream," given during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, still inspires hope in the hearts of people across the globe. Tragically, an assassin shot and killed Dr. King on April 4, 1968. The prayer shown here, offered in the chambers of the California Assembly just one day after his death, shows the depth of feeling sparked by this great man.
In Memory of Martin Luther King, Bill Greene Papers, 1968-04-05, California State Archives, Office of the Secretary of State, Sacramento.
MLK Endorsement Telegram
In the 1960 Presidential Election, he was asked to endorse a candidate, either John F. Kennedy or Richard Nixon, but he declined to offer an endorsement because his position required him to be impartial.
Telegram sent by Martin Luther King Jr. when asked to endorse John F. Kennedy or Richard M. Nixon in the presidential election, 1960, Richard M. Nixon for President Files. Whitaker & Baxter Campaigns, Inc., Records, C134.1.88, box 62, folder 11, California State Archives, Office of the Secretary of State, Sacramento.
In 1981, California passed legislation, authored by Assemblymember Elihu Harris, to create a state holiday honoring the life and achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The button shown here, an artifact from our collection of Harris’s papers, was worn by several officials when Governor Brown signed the bill into law.
Students for the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Button, 1981, Artifacts. Elihu Harris Papers, LP366, California State Archives, Office of the Secretary of State, Sacramento.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Medal
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference-West (SCLC) Martin Luther King Award was presented to Assembly Member Elihu Harris in 1982. Harris represented California’s 13th Assembly District (1978-1990) and focused on civil rights, criminal justice, poverty, tax reform, and transportation issues. He was the Chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee (1980-1988), playing a key role in the rules and regulations of California’s criminal justice system. Harris’ legislation also created the Martin Luther King Jr. state holiday. He also served as Mayor of Oakland (1991-1999), and Chancellor of the Peralta Community College District (2003-2010).
Martin Luther King, Jr. Medal, 1982, Artifacts. Elihu Harris Papers, LP366, California State Archives, Office of the Secretary of State, Sacramento.
Birmingham Jail Letter
In April 1963 Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested in Birmingham, Alabama with dozens of other civil rights activists protesting racial segregation in the South. King began writing his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail in part as a reply to criticisms of his tactics made by fellow clergymen, writing that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” King’s letter was published and re-published many times over the next twelve months. This copy of the letter was published by a Quaker organization, the American Friends Service Committee, in 1963.
Letter from Birmingham Jail, 1963, Coded File J3.1 Discrimination. Dept. of Social Welfare Records, R350.104, California State Archives, Office of the Secretary of State, Sacramento.