A radical pacifist, trade union proponent, and civil rights activist, James Peck wrote the introduction to a Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) reprint of Martin Luther King’s article, “Our Struggle: The Story of Montgomery,” which originally appeared in Liberation. “By encouraging and supporting actions such as that in Montgomery,” Peck informed readers, “we who adhere to the principles of nonviolence hope to hasten complete abolition of segregation within our social system” (King, “Our Struggle,” 1957).
The son of a wealthy clothier, Peck was born in New York City and briefly attended Harvard University before becoming a full-time activist. Peck was interned for 28 months during World War II as a conscientious objector, and in 1947 he participated in CORE’s Journey of Reconciliation. Thereafter, he worked with the War Resisters League and CORE, editing the newsletter CORE-lator for 17 years.
During the Montgomery bus boycott, Peck helped the Montgomery Improvement Association raise funds by sending the group matchbooks bearing slogans. In 1960 King wrote the introduction to Peck’s pamphlet, “Cracking the Color Line: Non-Violent Direct Action Methods of Eliminating Racial Discrimination.” In the introduction King praised CORE for using “brains and imagination as well as good-will, self-discipline, and persistence” (Papers 5:349).
Peck was the only participant in the original Journey of Reconciliation to join the Freedom Rides in 1961. When the bus he was riding arrived in Birmingham, Alabama, he was knocked unconscious and suffered a gash that required 53 stitches to close. In February 1962 Peck sent King a copy of his memoir Freedom Ride, informing King that the book’s chapter on Montgomery quoted “at length” from King’s Liberation article (Peck, 19 February 1962).
Although he was ousted from CORE in 1966 when that group adopted Black Power policies and abandoned its previous interracialism, Peck continued to be active in the movement to end the Vietnam War. He expressed his continuing admiration for King in a June 1966 letter to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference leader: “Despite the increasing clamor for ‘black power’ and ‘self-defense,’ you adhere to the principles of equality and nonviolence” (Peck, 27 June 1966).
King, Introduction to Cracking the Color Line: Non-Violent Direct Action Methods of Eliminating Racial Discrimination, 1960, in Papers 5:349.
King, “Our Struggle,” April 1956, in Papers 3:236–241.
King, Our Struggle: The Story of Montgomery (New York: CORE, 1957), MLKP-MBU.
Peck, Freedom Ride, 1962.
Peck to King, 19 February 1962, MLKJP-GAMK.
Peck to King, 27 June 1966, MCMLK-RWWL.