Following King’s perjury indictment, black Communist Benjamin Davis reminded him that threats of imprisonment used to silence dissent have “never succeeded in stopping the march forward of the people.”1 Davis assured King that, “while we struggle to save this Martin Luther King, others will arise from your example, until they do not have enough prisons to hold the Martin Luther Kings.” In this response, King thanks Davis for his encouragement and promises to write the federal parole board in support of parole for Communist Party leader Henry Winston.2
Mr. Benjamin J. Davis
710 Riverside Drive
New York 31, New York
Dear Mr. Davis:
This is just a note to acknowledge receipt of your kind letter of recent date. I would have answered it long before now, but an extremely crowded schedule stood in my way.
Your words are always encouraging, and although we do not share the political views I find a deeper unity of spirit with you that is after all the important thing. In the midst of the constant harrassment and intimidations and threats that I face as the result of my involvement in the civil rights struggle I often find myself asking “Is it worth it?” But then a friend like yourself comes along with an encouraging word and this gives me renewed courage and vigor to carry on. So I have learned to live now with the conviction that unearned suffering will in some way contribute to the ultimate realization of the ideal of brotherhood and human dignity.
Please forgive me for not writing the letter on the Winston matter. I have been planning to do it for lo these many weeks, but the pressures of recent events have caused me to overlook so many things that I should have done. I will get this letter off immediately. I think it is both immoral and tragic for a nation to allow any human being to face such an inhuman situation.
Very sincerely yours,
Martin L. King, Jr.
1. Davis to King, April 1960. Davis, an Atlanta native and acquaintance of King, Sr., wrote King in September 1958 following his arrest in Montgomery for loitering (see Davis to King, 4 September 1958, in Papers 4:485-486).
2. On the same day he wrote this reply to Davis, King urged the chair of the U.S. Board of Parole to release Winston; less than two weeks later King received word from the Board of Parole that Winston’s application had been denied (King to George J. Reed, 23 April 1960, and William K. McDermott to King, 3 May 1960). In letters of 20 August 1959 and 12 February 1960, Davis had solicited King’s aid in the campaign to free Winston, who was among eleven leaders of the Communist Party convicted in 1949 for violating the Alien Registration (Smith) Act of 1940 for advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government. President Kennedy commuted Winston’s sentence in 1961. By that time Winston had lost his eyesight due to a untreated brain tumor.
MLKP-MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University, Boston, Mass.