Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King Primary Sources at the Kheel Center: This page was created by Steven Calco, Kheel Center.
The Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation & Archives at Catherwood Library in Cornell's ILR School contains a rich treasure trove of primary sources pertaining to Dr. King and Coretta Scott King’s work with unions, particularly Local 1199, ILGWU, ACWA, Fur Workers’ Union, and noted arbitrator Theodore Kheel and Ann Sustein Kheel.
Part of the Kheel Center’s primary sources on Dr. King and Coretta Scott King include photographs, correspondence, posters, fliers, LPs and audio cassette tapes, speech transcripts, artifacts, and more. Not included in this guide to our MLK collections are the trove of resources at Kheel pertaining to the work of unions and the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday Commission, the Martin Luther King Jr. Center, and union celebrations of MLK Day.
The Kheel Center has put on several exhibits pertaining to Dr. King’s work with the labor movement. Below is press related to the exhibits. Please visit the Kheel Center’s website or reach out to Kheel for further information.
- King’s Fight for Workers’ Rights by Daniel Aloi | January 17, 2019
- New Exhibit Showcases Dr. King’s Involvement In Labor Rights Movement by Emily Yang | January 21, 2019
- 'All Labor Has Dignity’ by Marjorie Z. Olds | February 20, 2021
- Coretta Scott King and the Labor Movement by Marjorie Z. Olds | March 15, 2021
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Labor Movement
Seeing labor and civil rights as twin pillars of social reform, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. worked tirelessly to advocate for working people, created connections with labor leaders and union members, played key roles in pivotal strikes, and fought for economic justice on several fronts. He helped organize the March of Washington for Jobs and Freedom with A. Philip Randolph of the Sleeping Car Porters Union, worked with his ‘favorite union’ Local 1199 organizing hospital workers in New York City, orchestrated the Poor People’s Campaign, and played a key role in the Memphis Sanitation Workers strike right before his assassination. Unions in turn supported King’s civil rights agenda by donating to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), marching on Washington, participating in the Southern Freedom Rides, and even helping bail out protestors in Birmingham. In 1957, speaking at a United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA) event, King proclaimed that:
Organized labor can be one of the most powerful instruments to do away with this evil that confronts our nation… It is certainly true that the forces that are anti-Negro are by and large anti-labor, and with the coming together of the powerful influence of labor and all people of goodwill in the struggle for freedom and human dignity, I can assure you that we have a powerful instrument.
After his assassination, those in the labor movement mourned his death by holding vigils in the workplace and continuing to rally for workers’ rights in honor of King, holding signs proclaiming “We Will Carry on Your Great Struggle” and “We Mourn Our Loss.” Coretta Scott King continued his work with unions helping spearhead the “Union Power, Soul Power” Campaign with Local 1199 as honorary chair of their national organizing committee for over a decade, winning key union battles in Charleston, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and New York City.
Dr. King and Garment/Textile Unions
Dr. King and Garment/Textile Unions
This section details Dr. King’s work with unions from our garment union collections including Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America Records (ACWA) and the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU). Of note are the correspondence with Dr. King and David Dubinsky, President of the ILGWU and Charles Zimmerman of the ILGWU. Sources include photographs, negatives, videos, correspondence, and telegrams.
This collection contains a letter from Bessie Hillman of ACTWU stating: "The loss of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a grievous one not only to the people of his race but to all Americans. It is symbolic that he died while helping a labor union in its fight for existence. His struggle to bring dignity and well-being to the poverty stricken was in the tradition of the labor movement itself."
This collection contains two resolutions regarding the commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, including a resolution by the Philadelphia Joint Board of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America to make his birthday a holiday and a resolution from Cutters and Trimmers Local 110, Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (Philadelphia) designating January 15th as Martin Luther King Jr. day and to be a paid holiday.
This collection includes photographs of Dr. King including several headshots; Dr. King receiving a $1,000 contribution from the ACWA Laundry Workers Joint Board; Congressman John Brademas, Mrs. Tanaway Chairman of civic planning committee, King, and Martha Wilson President of Local 319”; "Reverend King, We Shall Overcome!" protest; photo of Dr. King's last public appearance; Dr. King holding up his Nobel Peace Prize; "President George Meany pins the convention guest badge on Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.;” and "members of Local 275, Chicago Joint Board of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America meet with Coretta and Mrs. Paul H. Douglas at a tea, held in honor of Mrs. Douglas."
This collection includes photographs of Dr. King speaking at rallies; posing with award from the Religion and Labor Foundation; large rally in front of Washington monument; Dr. King, David Dubinsky, and Van Arsdale; Dr. King and Coretta leading Selma to Montgomery in March 1965; Dr. King in jail with Reverend Abernathy in 1964; and women in a shop listening to Dr. King’s funeral services on a radio.
This collection includes a negative and small positive of Dr. King receiving the Social Justice Award from the Religion and Labor Foundation.
This collection includes 9 telegrams and letters of thanks between Dr. King to David Dubinsky pertaining to donations to SCLC from the ILGWU.
This collection includes letters and telegrams between Martin Luther King and ILGWU’s Charles Zimmerman; 9 letters and telegrams sent to various leaders from Zimmerman and George Meany urging political leaders to condemn and overturn the arrest and charge of Martin Luther King.
This collection includes photographs of ILGWU women attending the March on Washington; Dr. King with an aide, Michael Quill, President of Transportation Workers Union (TWU), and ILGWU President David Dubinsky at a meeting of the AFL-CIO Trade Union Committee on Civil Rights in 1963; and ILGWU’s work supporting Dr. King at various strikes and marches from the Prayer Pilgrimage, Woolworth’s protest, and Marching for the Dream.
This collection includes a video of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
This collection contains several images of ILGWU women attending the March on Washington and Memphis Sanitation workers holding I AM A MAN signs.
This collection contains photographs of Coretta Scott King at committee/political meetings; Dr. King and Coretta with 2 of their children; a close-up of Dr. King delivering a speech during the March on Washington; Coretta speaking at the Waldorf Astoria with sign labeled “Full Employment Action Council;” Coretta seated at a congressional hearing; a photo of the 10 year anniversary of King’s death; Coretta speaking at the 1978 ACTWU Full Employment Rally; Coretta presenting Congressman Hawkins with an award; Coretta talking with Murray H. Finley, ACWU labor leader; Coretta at Labor Unity Sept 1976; Coretta presenting an award to Leon Keyserling with Murray Finley.
Dr. King and Civil Rights
Dr. King and Civil Rights
This collection contains primarily general information, direct correspondence, and a few photographs reflecting Dr. King’s relationship with A. Philip Randolph. The collection contains many microfilmed documents including a receipt from Dr. King’s trip to India; statement on the indictment of Dr. King; a confidential memorandum entitled A Salute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; telegrams related to the jailing of Dr. King and other protestors; list of directors for the Martin Luther King memorial center; memo explaining and recruiting the need for continuing civil rights protests; document entitled the Revolving Bail Fund; board meeting notes and minutes focused on defending Dr. King and struggle for freedom in the South; flyer for rally in Harlem; combined democracy appeal document; document titled Call to a Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom; and documents on youth march for integrated schools; In four images including a blurry postcard with a photo of MLK and Randolph and other men titled Civil Rights for All Americans beneath them on the front and a note on the back; A pamphlet titled Obsequies, Martin Luther King Jr..
In the correspondence section there is a letter from Randolph to Coretta Scott King; many letters and telegrams between Dr. King and Randolph; letter from Dr. King to Dubinsky; annual report from Dr. King’s eighth Southern Christian Leadership Conference; letter from William Holmes Borders to Dr. King; letter from Dr. King to Mr. Lerner; letter from Randolph on behalf of the Committee to Defend Martin Luther King Jr. and the Struggle for Freedom in the South; and a letter to Wendell L.Wilkie from Ralph J. Bunche, Dr. King, and Raldolph. Kheel also holds #6079mf FBI Files on A. Philip Randolph on Microfilm
This collection contains minutes of board meetings in the month of March for the Committee to Defend Martin Luther King and the Struggle for Freedom in the South; The third document seems to be a poster titled Heed Their Rising Voices which speaks to the urgency of supporting peaceful Civil Rights protestors and their aligned mission with Dr. King’s words, this document also contains a part which can be used to send in donations.
This collection contains two packets of photos of Dr. King including Dr. King and Ralph Abernathy in jail in St. Augustine, FL; Selma on March 25, 1965; "Leaders of the big three civil-rights groups marched arm-in-arm in Canton, Mississippi; Dr. King during the March on Washington in 1963; and Dr. King on a front seat of a bus in Montgomery a year after the boycott.
Dr. King Publications at Kheel
This collection contains a thin booklet titled: "Letter from Birmingham City Jail" by Martin Luther King, Jr.
This collection contains many pamphlets including King discussing the status of the civil rights struggle and white sentiment after Selma and the signing 1965 Voters Rights Act; TWU and Dr. King; "America's Greatest Crisis... an address by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King to the 11th Constitutional Convention, Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO" on October 10, 1961;" a Legislative report titled, "Support the Equal Rights Bill: Demands that all union members are responsible to support civil rights as a moral obligation”; a poster with a statement by President Quill; and a large flyer titled "End the American Tragedy, Call off the Dogs! Let the Federal Troops Act!" in response to brutality in Birmingham.
Dr. King and Local 1199
Dr. King and Local 1199
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King’s relationship with Local 1199, the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, and its President Leon J. Davis grew throughout the 1960s in a concerted effort to fight for the rights of health care workers. King often lauded 1199 as his “favorite union” for their opposition to the war in Vietnam, racism, poverty, and overall commitment to the civil rights agenda.
Coretta Scott King worked tirelessly to continue the legacy of her late husband’s work with unions and fighting for workers’ rights. After her husband’s passing, Coretta marched with Memphis Sanitation Workers and hospital workers in Charleston, continued King’s work with the Poor People’s Campaign for economic justice, and was appointed as honorary chair of Local 1199’s National Organizing Committee, organizing key strikes for union recognition throughout the country.
This collection contains a multitude of documents related to Dr. King including a telegram to Leon Davis; Memo for participating in Martin Luther King jailing protests; telegram invitation for the march at Selma; telegram denouncing brutality at Selma and demanding federal intervention to protect Selma's oppressed citizenry; Letter, mentioning 6 separate suits pertaining to voter discrimination and intimidation; Martin Luther King's report discussing Selma march, Civil rights Acts, voting legislation, SCOPE: Summer Community Organization and Political Education Project, and Operation Breadbasket; Martin Luther King to Oslo for the Nobel Peace Prize; Letter of Martin Luther King thanking Local 1199; report about 1199 listing Coretta Scott King as the Honorary chairman for the “Union Power, Soul Power” campaign.
The collection contains materials relating to Local 1199 and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom including a booklet entitled "Why We March;” promotional flyers and organizing manuals for the March; letters from A. Philip Randolph; and a telegram from Davis telling Martin Luther King that his work in Selma is an inspiration to their strike in Bronxville.
This collection contains many documents pertaining to Dr. King including a newsletter discussing Dr. King’s support of Local 1199; Dr. King's Statements on 1199; several pieces of correspondence from Dr. King to Moe Foner and President of 1199, Leon Davis; "The Ebenezer Baptist Church and the King Families” invitation; 1199 union membership promotional cards featuring Dr. King’s image and quotes of support to the union in English and Spanish; and “A Collection of Education Materials on the Life and Times of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”
This collection also contains many materials relating to Coretta Scott’s work with 1199 including several pieces of correspondence between Coretta and Executive Secretary of 1199, Moe Foner including letters discussing donations, providing thanks in helping pass a bill that extends collective bargaining rights to hospital workers, detailing their victories for hospital employee wages and benefits, and accepting an invitation to speak at 1199’s ‘Salute to Freedom’ event. The collection also includes a family photo of the Kings signed by Coretta, a booklet of King family photos at home; “Fiery Widow: Coretta King Leads Massive Black Union Drive on Nation's Hospitals" by Victor Reisel; and a statement by Coretta marking Dr. King’s birthday in 1970.
This collection contains two 1199 fliers remembering Dr. King’s mission; a photo of Dr. King giving a speech at 1199’s annual "Salute to Freedom" event at Hunter College in New York City on March 8th, 1968, the last speech he gave to 1199 before his passing; and a photo of "The Dignity of Labor" exhibition.
This collection includes LPs of Dr. King’s and Coretta Scott King’s speeches to Local 1199, 1199 strike footage, and “I am Somebody” about the hospital strike in Charleston.
This collection includes 3 photos of Dr. King with union leaders.
This collection contains documents including Dr. King’s statement at Prayer Pilgrimage meeting in 1962; telegrams describing the reasoning for hospital strikes; an address to University of Chicago on "The Domestic Impact of the War in America.;" King Quotes concerning Vietnam; Salute to Freedom Speech for Local 1199; booklet from Clergy on Dr. King and Vietnam; newspaper clippings; and a Local 1199 flier with a message to hospital workers.
This collection includes several photographs and negatives of Coretta Scott King’s work with 1199 including images of her speaking and marching in Charleston in 1969; speaking at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church with signs reading "Coretta King, Our Queen"; Coretta with Ms. Turner and Elliot Godoff, 1199 director of Organization during Charleston strike; Coretta and Mary Moultrie, President of 1199-B in Charleston; Coretta embracing children wearing 1199 hats; Coretta at a rally in Morris Brown A.M.E. Church in Charleston; Coretta leading the crowd of strikers in prayer; and Coretta with crowds of nurses during the St. Luke's Hospital strike.
This collection also contains several photographs and negatives of Dr. King speaking at an 1199 event at Hotel Roosevelt; images of Dr. King with Leon Davis with "To Win Freedom Now!" banner in background; Dr. King memorial services in Trafalgar, NY Infirmary; Memphis sanitation workers strike and protests after Dr. King's death featuring signs reading “Rev. King, we will carry on your struggle," "Union Justice Now," "In Union there is Strength,” and "All Labor Backs Sanitation Workers." Also included in this collection is an LP of Dr. King’s speech to 1199 with an excerpt from his speech to Memphis Sanitation workers.
This collection contains an LP of Martin Luther King speaking to Local 1199.
This collection contains a colorful poster of Dr. King after his passing reading “adding grace and hope to our struggle for economic justice.”
This collection contains LPs from the March on Washington and Dr. King at Local 1199.
This collection contains an array of documents pertaining to Dr. King such as a statement by Martin Luther King on the Lawrence Hospital Strike; A telegram from Martin Luther King to Mr. and Mrs John Richardson, Jr.; Images of Charleston Strike featuring Coretta Scott King and the 1199 hats; Martin Luther King Statements on 1199 between 1959-1968; Transcript of Martin Luther King 1968 speech at Hunter College.
This collection contains LPs of Coretta’s speech to 1199 in 1970; Dr. King speech to 1199; and a 1199 union cap.
This collection contains 12 photographs of Dr. King including photos of Dr. King with Moe Foner and Harry Van Arsdale, President of the NYC Central Labor Council; Dr. King with Reverend Ralph Abernathy and President of 1199, Leon Davis; Dr. King reading a "Salute to Freedom" brochure; Dr. King in Mississippi; headshots; and Moe Foner, Leon Davis, and others at Dr. King's funeral in Atlanta GA
The collection also contains 9 photographs of Coretta Scott King including images of Coretta marching with Moe Foner and Leon Davis after St. Luke's hospital union election.
This collection contains a statement by Coretta Scott King in support of 1199; transcript of a Coretta’s speech to hospital workers in 1969; 1199 broadside with a message from Coretta Scott King wearing 1199 cap; Coretta with President Corazon Aquino of Manila and Winnie Mandela of South Africa; transcript of Coretta’s "Statement to Press in Baltimore, August 26th, 1969, talking about supporting working women of diverse backgrounds and transcript of the press statement.
This collection also commemorative photo book; transcript of Dr. King's speech to 1199 in March 1968; newspaper clipping noting Dr. King’s respect for Leon Davis; newspaper sections on “The Life, Times, and Thoughts of Martin Luther King”; and photo of Dr. King’s tombstone.
This collection contains a photo of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking to local 1199 in 1968.
Dr. King and the Kheel family
Dr. King and the Kheel family
This collection contains clippings of Dr. King and the formation of the Gandhi Society for Human Rights whose honorary chairman is Dr. King and President is Theodore W. Kheel, includes a photo of Martin Luther King with Harry Wachtel and Theodore Kheel; and "Equal Rights - QUILL: UNIONS MUST ACT NOW" with a photo of Dr. King receiving a $10,000 check from International President J. Quill.
This collection contains a letter from Dr. King to Theodore and Anne Kheel, regarding their recent dinner together and overall commitment to civil rights.
This collection contains two photographs of Dr. King with Ann Kheel, one candid color photo in the Kheel residence and one at an event.
Dr. King and Miscellaneous Unions
Dr. King and Miscellaneous Unions
This collection includes hand illustrated fliers inviting unions to march and hear Dr. King speak on ending the war in Vietnam; two fliers regarding the mourning of Dr. King; handwritten thank you card for allowing to lead his memorial; ‘Requiem’ by Lucy Smith of Local 53F; Labor Today newsletter with a statement by Dr. King discussing how civil rights and union rights have the same economic goals and "it is essential that a closer relationship be effected between the forces of the civil rights movement and the trade union movement."
This collection includes a photo of Dr. King speaking at the National Labor Leadership Assembly for Peace.
This collection contains a large headshot of Dr. King.
This collection contains photos of Dr. King speaking at a AFL-CIO convention and at a Hotel and Club Employees Union Local 6 AFL-CIO meeting.
This collection contains a report written to the Southern Regional Council, Inc. on March 22, 1968 days before his death entitled “In Memphis: Tragedy Un-averted” by J. Edwin Stanfield. The collection also includes several newspaper clippings about King’s assassination, protests, sit-ins, prayer vigils, and work in the civil rights movement.