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To Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.

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Author: King, Martin Luther, Jr.

Date: June 24, 1960

Genre: Letter

Topic: Martin Luther King, Jr. - Threats/attacks against

Martin Luther King, Jr. - Travels


Shortly before leaving for the Tenth Annual Baptist World Alliance in Rio de Janeiro, King assails Powell's allegations that he and Randolph were “‘captives’ of behind the-scenes interests” and that King had “been under undue influences ever since Bayard Rustin…went to Alabama to help in the bus boycott.”1 Powell also reportedly accused them of excluding the NAACP from their plans to protest the upcoming conventions.2 King entreats Powell to “publicly correct these false charges with as much vigor as they were made.”

On 27 June, Rustin announced his resignation as King's special assistant and director of SCLC's New York office, citing Powell's claims that he had become a divisive force in the civil rights struggle.3 Rustin stated that he could not “permit a situation to endure” in which his relationship to SCLC “is used to confuse and becloud the basic issues confronting the Negro people today.”4

rev dr. adam clayton powell
abysynnian baptist church 138th st & 7th ave

as i leave country i am still somewhat distressed. how you could say the malicious things that the press reported last week concerning two of your best friends is still mystery to me. i have always vigiou vigoriously defended you against your most severe critics even when they were naacp officials. i have publicly supported you in your campaign.5 phil randolph has done even more to support you across years. if you had only checked with me or randolph you would have discovered that we talked with roy on this at least three times. if i am a captive of bayard ruston it is because he came to me so highly recommended by you. because of my respect for you and your judgment i accepted him as one of my assistants. in spite of all i will hold [strikeout illegible] nothing in my heart against you and i will not go to the press to answer or condemn you. i only hope that something within will cause you to publicly correct these false charges with as much vigor as they were made. may god ever bless you in your heoric heoric work heroic work

martin luther king jr.

1. Powell, who made his claims during a speech to the National Sunday School and Baptist Training Union Congress in Buffalo on 19 June, reportedly claimed Randolph was beholden to socialists, “guided principally” by Stanley Levison (“Powell Insists Randolph, King Are ‘Captives,’” Pittsburgh Courier, 25 June 1960).

2. Powell may have felt the picketing would jeopardize his chances of becoming chair of the House labor and education committee (Nat Hentoff, “Adam Clayton Powell: What Price Principle?” Village Voice, 14 July 1960).

3. Rustin later recalled that Powell had also threatened to allege a sexual relationship between King and Rustin if the protests at the Democratic convention were not called off (The Reminiscences of Bayard Rustin [New York: Oral History Research Office, Columbia University, 1988], pp. 160-161, 267).

4. SCLC, Press release, 27 June 1960. King continued to consult Rustin on plans for the political conventions, but the two men had little contact until early 1963 (see Rustin to King, 14 July 1960).

5. King had expressed his support for Powell during the New York congressman's 1958 reelection campaign (King to Powell, 10 June 1958, in Papers 4:420-421).

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

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