Amidst rising tensions, he is concerned about “the present temper of events in this section of the country”.
From the time he organized the bus boycott in Montgomery in the 1950’s, through to passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 guaranteeing equality in public accommodations, right up until his death while fighting for the poor, Martin Luther King was at the center of the struggle. In the end, his...
From the time he organized the bus boycott in Montgomery in the 1950’s, through to passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 guaranteeing equality in public accommodations, right up until his death while fighting for the poor, Martin Luther King was at the center of the struggle. In the end, his program and movement succeeded in creating awareness, recruiting friends, and ultimately in destroying segregation. He has become one of the most revered Americans.
Dr. King first came to attention during the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott in 1956, when the civil rights movement was in its infancy. The boycott was successful, but he paid the price when his home was firebombed. He founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference shortly after, a key step in creating an infrastructure for the movement. Sit-ins began in earnest in 1960, and the freedom riders took center stage in 1961. That year the Kennedy Administration sent 400 Federal marshals to Montgomery to protect the freedom riders, and extended this protection to King when he was threatened. From the end of 1961 through 1962, civil rights efforts continued but with some discouragement. In 1963, however, came the historic March on Washington, where King made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. The country looked on, with many appreciating for the first time the need for change. All the momentum seemed to be moving in the direction of civil rights.
Although city leaders in Birmingham, Alabama, had reached a settlement in May 1963 with civil rights demonstrators to start to integrate public places, white supremacists refused to accept it. On Sunday, September 15, 1963, one of them bombed the predominantly black 16th Street Baptist Church (which was used as a meeting place by civil rights leaders), killing four little girls. This murderous act generated outrage across the spectrum, and in retrospect marked a turning point in the civil rights movement, as it contributed to support for passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. But in the wake of the bombing, civil rights activists blamed Alabama Governor George Wallace and the state and local authorities for creating the climate that led to the killings. Only a week before the bombing, Wallace had told The New York Times that to stop integration, Alabama needed a "few first-class funerals." So in October, blacks demanded justice, white supremacists were inflamed, the media was all over the story, and messages of support streamed in from civil rights supporters all around the country. In addition, there was an immediate legal proceeding: a witness identified Robert Chambliss, a member of the Ku Klux Klan, as the man who placed the bomb under the steps of the church. He was arrested, but only charged with possessing a box of 122 sticks of dynamite without a permit. On October 8, 1963, Chambliss received a $100 fine and a six-month jail sentence for having the dynamite.
King was in the midst of a firestorm of activity in the South. He also had long-standing commitments to speak that just could not be cancelled, and between the two was unable to find enough hours in the day.
Typed letter signed, on Southern Christian Leadership Conference letterhead, Atlanta, October 24, 1963, to John K. Robinson, who had invited him to speak to the American Association for the United Nations. “This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter of recent date inviting me to speak in San Francisco during Human Rights Week in December of this year. First, let me say how grateful I am to you for extending this invitation. Unfortunately, however, because of the present temper of events in this section of the country, I have had to adopt a policy of spending more time in the deep South. This means that I can accept only a limited number of speaking engagements outside the South during the course of the year. My calendar reveals that I have accepted the maximum for the month of December. Please know that I deeply regret my inability to serve you on this significant occasion. It is my hope that things will soon let up, so that I can accept more of the invitations that come across my desk.”
Letters of King have become quite uncommon. We obtained this one directly from the family of the recipient, and it has never before been offered for sale.
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