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To Bayard Rustin

King, Martin Luther, Jr. (Montgomery Improvement Association)
September 20, 1956
Montgomery Bus Boycott


King answers several questions about the bus boycott that Rustin had posed in a 12 September letter. Rustin had wanted to present the information at a meeting on 18 September of the Consultative Peace Council, a group composed of the major American peace organizations, which would take up the “Montgomery situation” as “the first and major item of the agenda.” Rustin added that “first-hand information” from King would "do more than anything else to get these organizations working more vigorously in the interest of the Improvement Association.” After receiving King's letter Rustin sent a copy to A. Philip Randolph with the notation, "Enclosed you will find a very interesting letter from Rev. King which I should like to share with you.” 1

Dear Bayard,

It was a real pleasure talking with you this morning. I must apologize for being somewhat tardy in my reply to your letter. Absence from the city plus the accumulation of a flood of mail account for the delay.

I will seek to answer your questions to the best of my ability. We may go about it by answering them one by one.

1. What is the immediate financial situation?

At present our finances are holding up fairly well. However, in the last three or four months our out-of-town contributions have dropped down tremendously. This is understandable in the light of the fact that the publicity on the Montgomery situation has lessened over the last few months. There is still need for all of the financial aid that we can get.

2. How much are you spending weekly?

We are spending at present approximately five thousand dollars ($5,000.00) weekly. Most of this money is used for the transportation system and the running of the office.

3. What does the financial picture look like for the future?

As I said above, we are still in need of financial aid. If we can continue to get a reasonable sum of money from outside sources I believe we will be able to raise enough in the local community to keep us going indefinitely. We seek at every point to cut down on expenses wherever we can, but the real problem is that as time goes on the wear and tear on the automobiles increases which leaves a tremendous repair bill.

4. What is the attitude of the people in the Negro community?

The people are just as enthusiastic now as they were in the beginning of the protest. They are determined never to return to jim crow buses. The mass meetings are still jammed and packed and above all the buses are still empty. Every now and then we will hear some complaint, but the vast majority of the people are dedicated to sacrificing and sticking out to the finish. I think also there is a growing commitment to the philosophy of non-violence on the part of the Negro community. Even those who were willing to get their guns in the beginning are gradually coming to see the futility of such an approach.

5. What are the major problems you are up against?

We are still confronting pressure from reaction forces. For instance there is still the attempt to block our transportation system. The policies have been cancelled on more than half of our station wagons, and we have confronted insuperable difficulties trying to get them reinsured. You can see what it means to our transportation system to have about ten station wagons out of operation. We have had these station wagons out of operation for more than a week simply because they are not insured. This seems to be the major problem confronting us at this time. 2

6. What is the effect of the White Citizens Council and Ku Klux Klan intimidation and action?

The actions of these two organizations in Alabama have given our people more determination to press on for the goal of integration. There is a general feeling that these organizations will destroy themselves through internal decay. There is good evidence for this view because these organizations are putting as much pressure on white people as they are on Negroes. (The white persons who don’t agree with their point of view.)

7. What is the legal situation at present and what strategic plans have you for carrying on the struggle?

At present we are awaiting a decision of the Supreme Court. As you know the Federal District Court, in a decision back in May, declared segregation unconstitutional in public transportation. In order to delay the situation the city and state appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court. The court will reconvene in October. Our lawyers feel that the Supreme Court will render its decision before Christmas or by January at the latest.3 This case is a priority case since an injunction is involved, so it will be one of the first cases on the docket when the court reconvenes. We will continue to refuse to ride the buses until this decision has been rendered. While waiting for the decision we will use our mass meetings to put greater emphasis on non-violence as a way of life and as a technique and also seek to prepare the people to go back to integrated buses with a sense of dignity and discipline. We are also hoping to instill within the minds of the people the great implications of the bus protest. We are seeking to show that it is much larger than a bus situation, but that it is just one aspect of the total question of integration in the south.

The legal situation in which I am involved will probably continue this fall. It is probable that my case will come up in November in the state case appeal. The briefs have already been filed. They are so large that the cost to file the briefs was more than one thousand dollars ($1,000.00).

In order to carry on our legal battle we will continually need money. It seems to be the strategy of the White Citizens Council to keep us bogged down in litigation as much as possible. As one pro-segregationist said recently: “We are prepared for a century of litigation.”

I hope this will in some way help you answer these pressing questions. I only regret that other pressing demands make it impossible for me to give more time to these questions. Feel free to contact me concerning any other questions. We are still deeply grateful to you for your encouraging words and your profound interest in our struggle. Whenever you feel the need to give some words of advice please feel free to do that.

With warm personal regards, I am

Very sincerely yours,
M. L. King, Jr.,


1. Rustin to Randolph, September 1956.

2. On 8 September 1956 several insurance companies announced the cancellation of policies covering seventeen of the twenty-four church station wagons used by MIA car pools. King later suggested that Citizens Councils had pressured the insurance companies to do so (see “We Are Still Walking,” December 1956, p. 448 in this volume). On 27 November, with the assistance of an Atlanta insurance company, the MIA received a Lloyd’s of London policy, retroactive to 18 September, for $11,000 per vehicle.

3. Following a hearing on 11 May, the federal district court in Montgomery ruled on 5 June against the city in Browder v. Gayle. The panel delayed enforcement until the city had exhausted its appeals. On 13 November the U.S. Supreme Court issued a per curiam opinion upholding the district court. Montgomery officials immediately petitioned the court to reconsider its ruling, indicating that they would continue to enforce segregation until all legal avenues had been exhausted. On 17 December the court rejected their petition.


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