In a letter that reveals his warmth and solicitude, President Lyndon Baines Johnson wrote to recently widowed Coretta Scott King about her grief and the grief of a nation.
In the note dated April 5, 1968, Johnson writes, “We will overcome this calamity and continue the work of justice and love that is Martin Luther King’s legacy and trust to us.” Johnson also wrote of his determination to find King’s killer.
“This is the president of the United States reaching out to a widow of the most famous civil rights leader and one of the most important figures in latter part of 20th century,” says Mark Updegrove, director of the LBJ Presidential Library. “The very person, Johnson, who partnered on that movement is reaching out to his widow at a very sensitive time.”
The letter goes on display for the first time, along with an epic charcoal drawing by Brian Washington at the Library on the University of Texas campus on Jan. 15 in commemoration of King’s birthday.
Here’s what the Library staff reports about the letter’s provenance:
“Mrs. King kept the letter until 2003, when she gave it to the singer, Harry Belafonte. In 2007, Belafonte considered auctioning the letter. The King family objected, the auction was canceled, and Belafonte and the King family reached an agreement. In 2014, Belafonte gifted the letter to his half-sister, Shirley Cooks, who sold the letter at auction in March 2015 for $60,000 to a private collector. The letter from Johnson to Mrs. King will make its public museum debut on January 15, 2016, at the LBJ Library. It has been donated to the Library by a private collector for the permanent collection.”
The small exhibit continues through April 1o.