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From Benjamin J. Davis

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Author: Davis, Benjamin J.

Date: September 4, 1958

Location: New York, N.Y.

Genre: Letter

Topic: Martin Luther King, Jr. - Arrests


King was arrested in Montgomery on Wednesday morning, 3 September, while trying to enter the courtroom at the hearing of Edward Davis, a man accused of attacking Ralph Abernathy.1 King was charged with loitering after refusing to obey a request from police to “move on.” Protesting the use of undue force, King complained that the officers “tried to break my arm, they grabbed my collar and choked me and when they got me to the cell, they kicked me.”2 After his release on $100 bond, the trial was set for 5 September. King's arrest garnered wide press coverage and he received telegrams and letters from many activists, civil rights supporters, and labor and religious organizations.3 African-American Communist Party leader Benjamin Davis sends his support and encouragement.4

reverend martin luther king=
dexter ave baptist church montgomery ala=

we condemn the brutality and indignity of your arrest we admire your wonderful and selfless courage for negro and human rights i pledge to do everything possible to inform arose and unite the negro people of harlem and their supporters to your defense your fight and that of our people for justice and human dignity in the united states is the cause of all humanity=

benjamin davis=

1. Edward Davis entered Abernathy’s office on 29 August, allegedly assaulting him with a pistol and a hatchet. Davis accused the minister of having an affair with his wife, Vivian, a member of Abernathy’s First Baptist Church. On 21 November 1958, an all-white jury acquitted Davis of the charges (“Negro Jailed After Attack On Leader Of Bus Boycott,” Montgomery Advertiser, 30 August 1958; MIA, Newsletter, 27 September 1958; Jury Rejects Abernathy Charges,” Montgomery Advertiser, 22 November 1958).

2. “King Charges Police Brutal After Arrest,” Montgomery Advertiser, 4 September 1958.

3. Roy Wilkins wired King on 3 September, and also sent a telegram to Eisenhower on 4 September: “We know that technically the federal government can do nothing about a police court case in any city, but the arrest and manhandling yesterday of Rev. Martin Luther King by police in Montgomery, Ala., has shocked the nation and demands in the minds of millions of Americans a rebuke from the Chief Executive.” Others sending their support included J. Oscar Lee of the National Council of Churches and C. K. Steele of the Inter-Civic Council (Lee to King, 4 September 1958; Steele to King, 6 September 1958).

4. King thanked Davis for this letter on 10 January 1959. Benjamin Jefferson Davis, Jr. (1903- 1964), born in Dawson, Georgia, earned a B.A. (1925) from Amherst College and an LL.B. (1929) from Harvard Law School. In 1932 he was hired by the International Labor Defense to defend Angelo Herndon, a young African-American Communist jailed for organizing the unemployed during the Depression. Herndon’s 1933 conviction caused a disillusioned Davis to join the Communist Party. In 1935 he became editor of the Communist Negro Liberator magazine and later the Daily Worker. Davis was elected in 1943 and again in 1945 to the New York City Council. In 1949 he was one of eleven high-ranking Communist leaders imprisoned for five years under the Smith Act for “conspiring to teach and advocate the overthrow of the U.S. government by force or violence.” Released from prison in 1955, Davis returned to New York and became chairman of the New York State district of the Communist Party.

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

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