PaperDr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Crisis in America’s Cities; An Analysis of Social Disorder and a Plan of Action Against Poverty, Discrimination and Racism in Urban ” First Edition unpublished mimeograph draft. 5 pages plus cover. King’s nationwide call to action against urban poverty, the most ambitious Civil Rights Campaign in the Northern United States, culminating in the 1968 Fair Housing Act, with significant differences from King’s final speech. King authored this brief but influential treatise after riots spread through the urban north due to intense discrimination and poverty. “The white society did not move and Newark came after Watts and was followed by Detroit. We will have to make them move. We will have to remind them that in the 18th century, Thomas Jefferson said, ‘I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.’” First Editions of the original speech made by King are extremely rare, with only one known in the holdings of the King Center archives. This earlier draft, held in the files of King’s organization, the SCLC, is the only known draft of this speech in existence.
On August 15, King delivered what is probably the most fiery of his speeches, entitled “The Crisis in American Cities.” He pointed a finger at hypocrisy, declaring, “if the total slum violations of law by the white man over the years were calculated and compared with the lawbreaking of a few days of riots, the hardened criminal would be the white man.” The blame for the situation he placed upon “the policy makers of the white society…they created discrimination; they created slums; they perpetuate unemployment, ignorance and poverty.” With aching eloquence, King declared that “Discrimination is the hellhound that gnaws at Negroes in every waking moment of their lives to remind them that the lie of their inferiority is accepted as truth in the society dominating them.” His mission was to end the housing segregation that forced blacks into unsafe and unsanitary ghettos of the urban north. With tensions boiling over during the “long hot summer” of 1967, high unemployment, discrimination and unsanitary an crowded living conditions led to riot after riot in cities across the urban north. King’s message in “Crisis in America’s Cities” was that love, not hate, was the answer to racial violence.
This speech was never formally published or collected, but was released in small numbers of staple-bound 6 page copies with green covers, and as a tri-fold printed pamphlet. The King Center Archives holds a single copy of the 6 page green variant. The copy here is an unknown earlier draft, 5 pages plus a cover mimeographed all on yellow paper. This draft of “Crisis” is absent from institutional collections and auction records, and it is possibly the only copy left in existence. While the theme and most content of this draft is the same as the final, it is driven by emotion which is captured and organized by the time the speech reached its final form. Some cuts appear to be for clarity, including a sentence on the first page which is lacking from the final draft, and reads, “After establishing the general cause of outbursts have an emotional content that is a reaction to the insults and depravity of the white backlash.” Missing from this early draft is numbered list of points for introduction, as well as numerous typos and typed over corrections which are visible through the mimeograph, and differences in the distribution of paragraphs.
Period sources state King handwrote his speeches before handing them off to aides, who would type a clean copy then mimeograph them for the press, typically in a run of about 200 copies. Most, if not all, were distributed to the press, and then lost. Today, most documents from the SCLC files exist only in the collection of the King Center. Like those in the King Center, this document escaped destruction because it were never distributed, but rather remained as the personal copy of King or his top staffers. This can be proven by the fact that all press copies were carefully inscribed with a copyright symbol ©, while King’s copy brought with him to the podium and other internal copies remained blank. This document spent decades in an SCLC filing cabinet, where it was exposed to dampening on the left side but is otherwise untouched. It now presents in only fair condition with water staining and rust around the original staple, which is still holding. Light grey water stains to left side of document and bottom left corner frayed. All text legible. The right side of the document was apparently more protected in its file and is in very good condition. It was gifted from the Estate of Thomas Offenburger to Stoney Cooks. Both Offenburger and Cooks worked with King at the SCLC, with Offenburger as publicist and Cooks as a young Director of Student Affairs. King’s mission was rewarded the year after “Crisis” by the passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, barring racial discrimination in real estate. Unfortunately, King did not live to see it. King’s indictment of government for causing urban suffering is extremely rare today, with only one final draft Edition of “Crisis” in the King Center Archives, and no copies of this early unpublished draft recorded anywhere.