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In Friendship

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January 5, 1956

On 5 January 1956, one month after the start of the Montgomery bus boycott, New York–based In Friendship was formed to direct economic aid to the South’s growing civil rights struggle. Founded by Ella Baker, Stanley Levison, Bayard Rustin, and representatives from more than 25 religious, political, and labor groups, In Friendship sought to assist grassroots activists who were “suffering economic reprisals because of their fight against segregation” (In Friendship, 17 February 1956). During its three years of operation, the organization contributed thousands of dollars to support the work of Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). In a letter to George Lawrence, chairman of In Friendship during the bus boycott, King stated, “We are very grateful to ‘In friendship’ for the interest that it has taken in our struggle” (Papers 3:408).

In May 1956, the organization joined with the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters to hold a civil rights rally in New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Proceeds from the event went to the MIA and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In addition, $10,000 was deposited into the Victory Savings Bank in Columbia, South Carolina, to enable the bank to issue loans to needy tenant farmers.

On 5 December 1956, In Friendship held its second major fundraiser, a concert at New York’s Manhattan Center to commemorate the first anniversary of the start of the bus boycott. In a 23 November letter to concert organizers Ruth Bunche and Aminda Wilkins, King described how boycotters were forced to walk to work because of a recent legal ban on carpools and how drivers were being targeted for economic retaliation. He wrote, “These factors mean that we are unfortunately in grave need of funds for carrying on the most critical phase of our struggle” (Papers 3:437). The event, which featured Coretta Scott King, Duke Ellington, Harry Belafonte, and Tallulah Bankhead, raised nearly $2,000 for the MIA. Coretta King spoke at the event, telling the northern crowd the story of the old woman who said, “It used to be that my soul was tired while my feet rested. Now my feet are tired, but my soul is resting” (King, 5 December 1956).

In Friendship continued to aid the movement after the bus boycott came to an end. Funds were raised to assist in the preparations for the January 1957 Southern Negro Leaders Conference, the founding gathering of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The organization later contributed $500 toward King’s 1957 trip to Ghana and secured a $4,000 grant for his 1959 India trip. During the late 1950s, In Friendship disbanded after funds dwindled as donors began directing their contributions directly to movement groups and Baker, Levison, and Rustin became involved with SCLC.


In Friendship, Memo, 17 February 1956, NAACPP-DLC.

King to George Lawrence, 30 October 1956, in Papers 3:407–408.

King to Ruth Bunche and Aminda Wilkins, 23 November 1956, in Papers 3:437–438.

(Scott) King, Address at Montgomery anniversary concert, 5 December 1956, CB-CtY.

Ransby, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement, 2003.