The Senate yesterday unanimously passed a bill authorizing the Library of Congress to acquire the papers of Martin Luther King Jr. from his family.

The measure, introduced earlier this week by Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), endorses the library's pursuit of the collection of personal writings but does not mention any purchase price. In the negotiations that have been ongoing since summer with the King family, the price mentioned has been $20 million, making the acquisition the most expensive in the library's 200-year history.

"Dr. King urged all people to get along regardless of their race, color or creed," Campbell said. "His call to all of us, that we should judge by the content of one's character rather than by the color of one's skin, sums up the very core of how we can all peacefully live together. With this bill, people studying his life's work will have access to his messages of justice and peace."

The bill, which was cosponsored by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) was passed by consent and without debate.

A similar bill has been introduced in the House by Reps. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and J.C. Watts (R-Okla.), House Republican Conference chairman. The Capitol Hill supporters of the library's pursuit of the King materials have emphasized that the transfer would put them in the public domain, thereby increasing accessibility to scholars and school children.

The 80,000 items cover notes and correspondence King made in the last six years of his life. They are part of a vast archive at the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, a living memorial and research center that is headed by Dexter Scott King, one of the civil rights leader's four children. Earlier this week, King said, "It is a little known fact that shortly before my father was killed, the Library of Congress had approached him about acquiring his private papers. Over the years, these conversations have continued and now appear to be nearing a positive conclusion."