Congressional Record: April 4, 2006 (Senate)
Page S2801-S2805                   


      By Mr. KERRY:
  S. 2499. A bill to provide for the expeditious disclosure of records 
relevant to the life and assassination of Reverend Doctor Martin Luther 
King, Jr.; to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental 

  Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, today, on the anniversary of Dr. Martin 
Luther King, Jr.'s assassination, I am pleased to join with my 
colleague in the House, Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney to introduce the 
Martin Luther King, Jr., Record Collections Act. This act will ensure 
the expeditious disclosure and preservation of records relevant to Dr. 
King's life and death. Fully releasing these records--many of which are 
not subject to disclosure until 2038--will shed significant light on a 
turning point in American history. My friend, Representative John 
Lewis, explained its necessity quite eloquently:

       I, too, was the subject of unwarranted FBI surveillance 
     during the Civil Rights Movement. Because we do not know this 
     part of our history, it is clear that we are beginning to 
     repeat it. Recently, we became aware of the administration's 
     domestic spying program that has targeted peace groups that 
     are carrying on the nonviolent action of Dr. King. It is time 
     that we know our history, and passage of the Rev. Martin 
     Luther King, Jr. Records Act will take us one step closer to 
     uncovering that history.

  Judge Joseph Brown, the last presiding judge in James Earl Ray's 
post-conviction relief proceedings, also supports this legislation. He 
believes that it is important to:

       . . . fully release the still classified historical record 
     surrounding the life and death of the late Dr. King. In light 
     of the disturbing records and documents that came to light in 
     James Earl Ray's petition before me and in consideration of 
     the recent furor over the power and authority granted to 
     certain officials under the guise of the Homeland Security 
     Act, it might prove most illuminating to review the 
     historical record relative to the exercise of purportedly 
     similar power and authority by the U.S. officials 40 years 
     ago. The American public, the citizens of the Land of the 
     Free and Home of the Brave deserve this access to the 
     historic record surrounding the life and death of Dr. King.

  Our legislation will create a Martin Luther King Records Collection 
at the National Archives. This will include all records--public and 
private--related to the life and death of Dr. King, including any 
investigations or inquiries by Federal, State, or local agencies. The 
records will be organized in a central directory to allow the public to 
access them online from anywhere in the world. The documents will be 
overseen by a review board consisting of at least one professional 
historian, one attorney, one researcher, and one representative of the 
civil rights community.
  The MLK Records Review Board, a five-member independent agency, will 
be responsible for facilitating the review and transmission of all 
related records to the Archivist for public disclosure. Members will be 
nominated by the President and approved with the advice and consent of 
the Senate. It will have the power to direct government offices to 
locate and organize related records and transmit them for review or 
release. It will also have the power to investigate the facts 
surrounding the transmission or possession of records, take testimony 
of individuals in order to fulfill their responsibilities, request the 
Attorney General to subpoena private persons or government employees to 
compel testimony or records and require agencies to account in writing 
for any previous or current destruction of related records. In 
addition, the Board can request that the Attorney General petition any 
court in the U.S. or abroad to release any sealed information or 
physical evidence relevant to the life or death of Dr. King, and to 
subpoena such evidence if it is no longer in the possession of the 
government. The MLK Records Review Board will also be required to 
provide annual reports to Congress, the President, the Archivist, and 
all government agencies whose records have been reviewed, and to the 
public. The Board must terminate its work no later than 5 years from 
the passage of the Act unless it votes to extend for an additional 2-
year term.

  The reason for having such a Board is to ensure that someone is 
responsible for finding all relevant records and that the records do 
not disclose any sensitive information. It is particularly important to 
have a Board like this given recent revelations by the New York Times 
that the government has begun removing thousands of declassified 
documents on a wide range of historical subjects from public access at 
the National Archives. There has perhaps never been a more urgent time 
to bring the records on Dr. King into the light of day. According to 
the National Archives, about 9,500 records totaling more than 55,000 
pages have been withdrawn from the public shelves and reclassified 
since 1999. We need to ensure that the records relating to the life and 
death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., do not suffer the same fate. They 
are too important to us at this point in American history.
  Dr. King challenged the conscience of my generation, and his words 
and his legacy continue to move generations to action today. His love 
and faith is alive in the millions of Americans who volunteer each day 
in soup kitchens or in schools, and those who refused to ignore the 
suffering of thousands they'd never met when Hurricane Katrina 
destroyed lives and communities. His vision and his passion are alive 
in churches and on campuses when millions stand up against the 
injustice of discrimination or the indifference that leaves too many 
  The best way to honor the memory of Dr. King is to finish his work at 
home and around the world. And the first step to furthering his legacy 
is to know the full body of it. I hope that my colleagues will join me 
in this very important effort: to preserve and learn from records 
relating to the life and death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.