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To Aaron E. Henry

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Author: King, Martin Luther, Jr. (Southern Christian Leadership Conference)

Date: September 17, 1958

Location: Montgomery, Ala.?

Genre: Letter

Topic: Martin Luther King, Jr. - Political and Social Views

Voter registration


King invites Henry, head of the Clarksdale Committee of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, to the next SCLC meeting, to be held in Norfolk, Virginia, from 30 September to 2 October. At the meeting Henry commented on the barriers preventing African Americans from voting in Mississippi, noting that if the governor of Virginia "can not interpret the 14th Amendment, can't you imagine how difficult it must be for a Negro layman to interpret both the entire Constitution ofthe United States and more than one hundred sections of the Mississippi constitution to the satisfaction of a clerk when he tries to vote?"1

Dr. Aaron Henry

Dear Aaron:

As you know, our Fall meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference will be held in Norfolk, Virginia. This promises to be one of the most important meetings that we have ever had. Since the massive resistance of Virginia will at that time be facing a show down, the Virginia citizenry is looking to our coming with great anticipation.2 Both our presence and our actions will be a great help in this situation. Therefore, I would strongly urge you to attend this meeting, even if it is at great sacrifice.

I would also like to stress the need of continued financial support for the work of our organization. Now that we have a staff, our monthly payroll is quite high. In an effort to bring some income into the organization to match the constant disbursements, I am urging every board member to bring fifty dollars ($50.00) to the Norfolk meeting for the work of the SCLC. You may do this through an after offering in your church or through whatever organizational connections you have or you might be desirous of making a personal contribution. Whatever the method, please consider the urgency of this request and realize what you complying with it will mean for the whole cause of freedom. If it is absolutely impossible for you to attend the meeting, we would appreciate your mailing this amount in to the office.

Let me thank you for your cooperation in advance.

With warm personal regards, I am

Sincerely yours,
Martin L. King, Jr.

(Signed in the absence of Rev. King.)

1. SCLC, Press release, 8 October 1958. In a 16 July memo outlining plans for the Norfolk meeting, Ella Baker stressed to King the need for SCLC to move beyond voter registration activities: "Mass action demands spirit and discipline. We are losing the initiative in the Civil Rights struggle in the South mainly because of the absence of a dynamic philosophy." In a letter of the same date to Bayard Rustin and Stanley Levison, Baker reiterated her concern that "more spirit needs to be injected" in the struggle: "S.C.L.C. should not become so involved with routine procedures for promoting registration and voting that it fails to develop and use our major weapon—mass resistance."

2. On 12 September Virginia governor J. Lindsay Almond closed Warren County High School after a federal court ordered it to accept the applications of twenty-two black students. By the end of the month, nine white Virginia public schools were shut down in order to prevent integration. During SCLC's Norfolk meeting scores of delegates, led by Solomon S. Seay of the MIA, held a prayer session at one of the six local schools closed as part of this effort, dubbed "massive resistance" by Virginia senator Harry F. Byrd ("Delegates Pray at Closed School," Norfolk Journal and Guide, 4 October 1958).

Source: MLKP-MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Boston University, Boston, Mass.

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