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Special Interest Robert R. Kracke Th e Mugshot of Martin Luther King, Jr. About 30 years ago in the 1980s, I was at a books and author’s luncheon at Th e Club in Birmingham, Alabama, seated next to Dr. Marvin Whiting who, at the time, was the Archivist of the City of Birmingham, housed in the basement of the old Birmingham Public Library. Th e conversation began to revolve around the civil rights demonstrations of 1963, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I casually turned to Dr. Whiting and said, “You know, Marvin, I have a copy at home of the mugshot of Martin Luther King, Jr.” Marvin turned to me and said, “No, you don’t, it doesn’t exist.” I said, “Well, I do. I made an extra one for myself.” He said, “I won’t believe it until I see it.” I said, “Why do you say that, Marvin?” He said, “Because we have heard that J. Edgar Hoover, in his capacity as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, confi scated the negative and had the mugshots destroyed so that Dr. King would not become a martyr with that picture.” I explained to Marvin that in the 1960s I had worked my way through college and law school as a photographic technician for the Birmingham Police Department, working the 3:00 to 11:00 shift. I went on to explain that my job entailed processing mugshots, homicide photos, wreck A Reminiscence by Robert R. Kracke pictures, burglary and arson photos and fi ngerprint comparisons for use in court as evidence. Th at from time to time during the six-year period I worked there I would make myself an extra copy of photographs I found of interest to me personally. It was a simple matter to make one extra copy after making the original photograph, which I would cast aside and put in a box as a sort of curio of macabre reminiscences, a rogues’ gallery of sorts. Among them were photos of Dick Gregory, Ralph Abernathy, Johnny Mathis, Martin Luther King, Jr., the armored vehicle so beloved by Bull Connor, and others. About two weeks after my conversation with Dr. Whiting, I went to the box and extracted the mugshot of Martin Luther King, Jr. and, on my way to the courthouse, called Dr. Whiting and stopped to visit with him. I showed him the mugshot and he sat and examined it quietly for approximately one minute. He then looked up at me and said, “Th is is the real thing, isn’t it?” I replied, “It really is.” I asked Marvin, “What do you think it is worth?” He paused for a moment and said, “Well, I think it is worth about $25,000.00, but if we got the Smithsonian Institute involved, it could be worth between $25,000.00 and $50,000.00. I then asked Marvin if I could purchase an appraisal from him stating, in his opinion, the fair market value of the mugshot and he said of course. I then began to research what I could do with it, realized that because it was printed on City of Birmingham paper by a then employee of the City of Birmingham, it was worthless to me, inasmuch, as I understood it, the law was that the Statute of non-claims or repose of 20 years did not apply to a municipality. Later, I showed selected items from the photo box to my children and one of them turned to me and said, “Daddy, why don’t you give it to that new Civil Rights Institute?” I said to myself, “Out of the mouths of babes.” I then contacted Dr. Odessa Woolfolk, the then president of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and made arrangements for her to accept the mugshot on behalf of the Institute. Th e mugshot of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is still there for anyone to see upon request. Th e last I heard, it was located in the archives of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. I did take a group of Japanese Rotarians who were visiting the City of Birmingham to the Institute and, with Dr. Lawrence Pijeaux’s permission, was allowed to show them the mugshot of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which our visitors seemed very privileged to have seen. I recently saw an advertisement in Th e Birmingham News off ering a book for sale entitled 1963: How the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement Changed America and the World by Barnett Wright and, low and behold, there was the mugshot of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the book. It was the fi rst time I had seen it published outside of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. One can only imagine my surprise and the fl ood of memories it caused. You should know that I have given my oral history remembrances to the Civil Rights Institute by way of an hour-long televised interview. Th e Civil Rights Institute has on display the jail cell occupied by Dr. King. It was from this jail cell that Dr. King wrote his famous “Letter From the Birmingham Jail.” It also has Bull’s armoured vehicle and 400 other oral histories on fi le. You can purchase a copy of Mr. Wright’s book from local bookstores or from the Birmingham News. It will also evoke memories of a diffi cult era of progress in Birmingham’s history of some 50 years ago. G 22 Birmingham Bar Association


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