The collection contains 93 items of correspondence, primarily incoming, and handwritten sermons, speeches, and notes, in addition to diaries, notebooks, minutes, reports, newspaper clippings, photographs, collected items, and memorabilia. The letters reflect family ties, civic, and educational pursuits, and community involvement. Of particular interest in this group of items are letters concerning the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's (SCLC) unsuccessful suit to desegregate airport facilities in Montgomery, Alabama which was initiated by Dr. Tilley, Dr. Ralph Abernathy, et al. It was heard by the Civil Aeronautics Board; and includes correspondence and copies of briefs.
While not a large group of materials, the greeting cards also hold several items of interest. Chief in this category is a Christmas greeting sent by Coretta Scott King. Despite the fact that the card is not dated, it can be determined by the four King children pictured with their mother that a relationship with the King family was maintained after the assassination of Dr. King. Not only in the correspondence is the SCLC tie indicated; it is further apparent in notes, clippings, financial records, and photographs found in the collection. A handwritten copy of a projected press release concerning the resignation of Dr. Tilley as executive secretary of SCLC is among the papers.
Clippings and photographs form an integral part of the collection including those which the known interests of the subject would suggest. Among these is one taken from a Chicago paper which was published near Thanksgiving Day, and which lists under "Saints" one John Tilley as a passenger on the Mayflower. An asterisk is placed near the name, either by Dr. Tilley, or by someone calling it to his attention.
The photographs are of individuals and groups, some of family. Again, the interests and activities of the subject are represented by persons and groups included in the collection of photographic data. There are photographs of activities relating to the voter registration drives in Atlanta and in Baltimore; there are photographs relating to Shaw University, and there is one of the Howard University School of Religion Faculty, circa 1967, showing Dr. Tilley in the group. Furthermore, there are photographs of Dr. Tilley shaking the hand of President Richard Nixon, and there are two negatives showing crowd scenes of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Through Dr. Tilley was a native of North Carolina and a member of a pioneering family in Stem, he received his high school education at Thyme Institute, Chase City, Virginia. Included in the autobiographical data in the collection is a two page item called "A Brief History of Mt. Vernon Missionary Baptist Church," which contains information about the Tilley family in Stem from 1872, or earlier. Because the government purchased the land on which the church was situated in 1942, a relocation was necessary. The original church building was moved to a site near Creedmoor, N.C. Dr. Tilley journeyed to his native state to preach the dedicatory sermon. Through subsequent renovations and remodeling, the church continues to exist; and it had the distinction of celebrating its centennial in 1972. Almost one year prior to that May date, Dr. Tilley had been interred in the church cemetery.