You Can See Martin Luther King Jr.’s Briefcase at BU
The first thing most people notice about Martin Luther King Jr.’s leather briefcase is how worn it is. “It’s from a point in his career where he was traveling constantly,” says Ryan Hendrickson, assistant director for manuscripts at Boston University, which is home to a roughly 80,000-piece collection from the civil rights icon. “He was just crisscrossing the country, giving talks all the time.”
King arrived in Boston in 1951 to work on his doctorate in systematic theology. He rented a small apartment on St. Botolph Street in the South End. While in town, he met his future wife, Coretta Scott, who was then studying classical singing at the New England Conservatory.
Even as a PhD candidate, King shuttled back and forth between Boston and his pastorate in Montgomery, Alabama. “He actually had to come back to defend his thesis,” Hendrickson says. In 1964, King announced that he would bequeath his personal papers to his alma mater. Nearly three decades later, this briefcase joined the archives by way of King’s literary agent. “It just looks like an average briefcase,” Hendrickson says. “But of course, if you know that he owned it, it tells you something different.”
Where to See It: Boston University’s Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center