King had responded with qualified interest to an 11 February proposal from Laws to represent him through Law’s public relations firm.1 In a 19 May letter Laws recommended a $500 minimum for King’s speaking engagements and informed him that all organizations requesting an appearance would be “checked against the Subversive List issued by the Attorney General of the United States.”
Mr. Bradford P. Laws
Bradford P. Laws Associates
2432 N. Broadway
Dear Mr. Laws:
In reply to your letter of May 19th, I submitted your letter to my attorney, as I do all contracts and agreements before I enter into the final phase of them.2 I was most astounded at his reaction to my having an agent in connection with my speaking engagements at this time. His reasons were many and to me, in most instances, logical.
His major objection to my entering into the commercial lecture field was my ecclesiastical position. He felt that as an ordained clergyman, it would not be feasible for me to enter into an agreement to diseminate the message I had to give on the basis of what potential listeners would have to pay.
He pointed out that, psychologically, it would be very poor public relations and spiritual relations too, for clergymen all over the country to be able to say to their people . . . “We want to hear Martin Luther King’s message, but we are a poor people, and we cannot afford to pay him the amount he asks to bring this message to us.” It would, he said, be tantamount to putting a price tag on the opportunity to learn about nonviolence, the subject nearest and dearest to my heart. It would be a direct antithesis to the ethics of the teaching of nonviolence according to Gandhi, the man whose ideals I try to emulate.
He reminded me that, having an agent, I would not be able to do the thing which I have been doing all year. . going to places that could not afford even my traveling expenses and speaking to young people who are potential leaders. In many of these instances, I was so spent, physically, that I could not accept a speaking engagement. . . even for a very large fee.
My attorney pointed out that until I reach the point where I feel I could dispense with a great many of these “no fee, no expense funds” speaking agreements, it would not be fair to have an agent, for he too, must earn a livlihood.
He reminded me that because of my great sense of responsibility and obligation, I would be in a constant state of turmoil and conflict, trying on the one hand to do the right thing by my agent, and on the other hand spending a large part of my time speaking whenever and wherever I felt the seed of my message needed sowing . . . regardless of any monetary consideration or ability to pay.
These are some of the points my attorney brought out. There were others. I see logic and wisdom in most of them and since his word is final in any business steps I take, I must reluctantly say, at this time at least, that I must defer bringing to a conclusion any tentative plans I might have had with you. I regret this deeply.
Please believe that if at any time in the future my status changes so that I might require an agent, I will give the Bradford P. Laws Associates first consideration.
Very sincerely yours,
Martin Luther King, Jr.
1. In his 17 March reply King indicated: “I am inclined to experiment with your plan as long as it does not interfere with personal engagements that I, myself, would arrange.” He also encouraged Laws to consider representing Ralph Abernathy: “He is a very forceful and dynamic speaker and much in demand.” Laws likely met King at Bright Hope Baptist Church in Philadelphia, where King spoke on 29 December 1957 (Laws to King, 11 February 1958).
2. King likely referred the matter to Stanley Levison.
MLKP-MBU. Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University, Boston, Mass.