Research June 13 2019
The Xavier University of Louisiana Library’s Archives & Special Collections has come across a rare find while doing some routine digitizing of past issues of the campus student newspaper: a signed copy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Why We Can’t Wait.”
In his 1964 book, the iconic Civil Rights leader writes about the nonviolent movement against racial segregation in the United States, and specifically the 1963 Birmingham campaign. The book calls 1963 a landmark year in the civil rights movement, and as the beginning of America's "Negro Revolution".
Unknown to anyone here at the Library, and on the campus, this signed copy was hiding in the Rare Books Room, awaiting discovery. That came about when Library Digital & Technology Assistant, Ms. Jane Fiegel, was scanning the February 15, 1990 edition of the Xavier Herald and came across an interesting, and enlightening article, “University Archives Houses Rare Treasures”. In the article, then staff reporter and Archives student worker (and now alum) Audra Evans ’91 mentions coming across the book.
Associate Archivist Irwin Lachoff has since located the book and removed it for safe keeping.
Inscribed on one of the blank pages preceding the title page, the signed dedication reads: “To Saint Francis DeSales High School and all of its students / With Best Wishes and hopes for a bright future / Martin Luther King Jr.”
The same page has “Library / St. Emma Military Academy” stamped at the top left, with the binding of the page appearing to be taped, and the bottom has a portion cut, possibly due to mold removal previously attended to. St. Francis de Sales and St. Emma Military Academy were both schools owned and operated by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. Located in Powhatan VA, the schools were founded in 1895 by Saint Katharine Drexel with the help of her sister, Louise Drexel Morrell, and her brother-in-law, Edward Morrell.
Both schools closed in the early 1970’s due to declining enrollment as a result of desegregation. It is believed, though not verified, that the signed MLK book made its way to Xavier when equipment and other items were removed from the buildings prior to their demolition, as XULA has accepted items from closing SBS schools before. Apparently the book was originally housed at St. Francis, went to St. Emma after St. Francis closed, then on to Xavier, which would explain the dedication and the stamps.
After this discovery, the Archives contacted The King Center Archives for authentication, as they are the primary historical resource for everything Dr. King. High resolution images of the book and signature were sent and the inscription and signature were deemed authentic.
“This rare and amazing find is truly a treasure and I believe it will play a great role in outreach and the rediscovery of Xavier's history, especially the Archives & Special Collections,” said Vincent Barraza, Digital Preservation Librarian. “I would also like to commend Ms. Fiegel on her attentiveness and research work, because without her this book might still be undiscovered.”