Last week, A’Lelia Bundles, the Chair and President of the National Archives Foundation, and I presented the 2015 National Archives Foundation Records of Achievement Award to Taylor Branch, an American author and Pulitzer Prize winner. This award recognizes Branch’s lifelong work chronicling the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the history of the Civil Rights movement in his landmark series: America in the King Years.
Taylor Branch’s Pulitzer Prize–winning narrative of the Civil Rights Movement has helped shape our understanding of that turbulent time in our history. He conducted extensive research at several National Archives facilities including the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson Presidential Libraries where he mined the notes of meetings, reviewed oral histories, and listened to countless hours of presidential recordings—all carefully collected, preserved, and made available by generations of National Archives staff.
The National Archives holds many records pertaining to Civil Rights, including March on Washington photographs, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. We even have Taylor’s own Freedom of Information lawsuit against the FBI!
Taylor Branch’s work demonstrates the power of the stories preserved in the National Archives. We house the tangible reminders of where we have been, how far we have come, and see every day how these reminders inspire others to discover other important stories to share with the world.
Our partners at the National Archives Foundation share our passion for educating our citizens about the important work of the National Archives in preserving our history and making it accessible to the people. The Records of Achievement Award is the Foundation’s highest honor, and each year, the award itself includes facsimiles of records from the National Archives collection that is of special significance to our honoree.
This year, in recognition of Taylor Branch’s groundbreaking research on the Civil Rights Movement, we presented two facsimiles of a document that he sought under a 1986 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the FBI, Branch v. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Civil Action No. 86-1643.
The FOIA request was for classified records that the FBI had compiled between 1962 and 1963 on Stanley Levison, a friend and advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The first facsimile shows the heavily redacted page that was originally provided to Branch by the FBI. It is a 1962 memo from the FBI Director to the Attorney General concerning Dr. King.
This next facsimile shows the memo after it was recently declassified on September 18, 2015.
The facsimiles were accompanied by the Records of Achievement medallion, which is composed of bronze from the original document encasements which were removed from the Rotunda of the National Archives during the 2003 renovation.
We presented the award and the records to Taylor Branch as our tribute to his commitment to consulting primary sources as he continues to tell the stories of our nation’s history. Congratulations, Taylor.