In a 26 November letter Virginia SCLC associate Wyatt Walker requested that King endorse a march in Richmond to protest the decision by state officials to close white public schools rather than integrate.1 Walker enclosed a draft of a letter intended to rally support for the protest and asked King to edit it for distribution to "every minister in the state"; King's revised letter dubs the march a "Pilgrimage for Public Schools." Walker had the letters typed before returning them to King to be signed and mailed from Montgomery.2 On 16 January Walker thanked King for mailing the letters and for recording a message that was played during the demonstration: "You could not have spoken more directly to the situation if you had been here yourself."3
Dear Brother in Christ:
I have been deeply concerned with the present school-closing in Virginia. It has disturbed me because I sincerely feel that what happens in Virginia today will critically affect the future of our concerted desegregation efforts in the South.
This is a time for action in Virginia. No person of color can afford the luxury of standing idly by with public education in such great jeopardy. Today is a day for great men, great ideas, great movements, a day of new self-esteem and dignity for Negro Americans; a day for all Virginians of good will to speak to our millions of disenfranchised and disinherited brothers all over the world. Virginia, in this critical hour, has the opportunity to give direction and destiny to our troubled South. As Virginia goes, so goes the South, perhaps America, and the world. Christian democracy is at stake.
Some of my friends, whose names are affixed to the bottom of this letter, have asked me to especially encourage you to join them in a Pilgrimage for Public Schools on Emancipation Day, January 1, at the State Capitol. This non-violent demonstration to dramatize Virginians' insistence for free, public, desegregated schools will involve thousands of Virginians and speak to the soul and conscience of America if you will give it your support.
As ministers and leaders of our people, each of us has an obligation to Jesus and His quest to elevate each human personality, to rally his community in support of this project. We ask but little of you. We ask only that each church in the state of Virginia send at least two bus loads of people to petition the Governor on Emancipation Day for the opening of schools in compliance with the Supreme Court Decision of 1954. We, as leaders, must do much more in this struggle for first-class citizenship.
Let us then, proclaim Emancipation Day, January 1, as a day of Prayer and Sacrifice for the sufferings of all oppressed people. Let it be your personal responsibility to send at least 50 persons to Richmond from your church community on that day. Let us make this small sacrifice as a symbol of our faith in Christ and His Way.
My good friend, the Reverend Wyatt Tee Walker, minister of the Gillfield Church, Petersburg, has accepted responsibility for the coordination of this pilgrimage. He will contact you in a few days.
My prayers and good wishes are with you in this great undertaking. If my health permits, I shall join you on this great day.
[signed] Martin L. King Jr.
Martin Luther King
on behalf of:
Dr. W. L. Hamilton, President, Virginia State Council, Southern Christian Leadership Conference
Dr. J. B. Henderson, President, Lott Carey Foreign Mission Convention
The Rev. S. C. McCall, President, Baptist General Association
Dr. E. C. Smith, President, Virginia Baptist State Convention
Dr. Robert L. Taylor, President, Goodwill Baptist Convention, N.B.C., Inc.
The Rev. Wm. B. Abbot, Minister, Oakdale Presbyterian Church
Dr. Philip Wyatt, President, State Conference, NAACP
Mrs. Vivian Carter Mason, President, National Council of Negro Women
Mrs. Sarah Patton Boyle, Authoress, Charlottesville, Virginia
Dr. Hugo A. Owens, President, Old Dominion Dental Society
The Rev. H. G. Hairston, Grand Master, Grand Lodge of Virginia, A.F. & A.M.
Mr. Joseph F. Simmons, Esq., President, Virginia State Association IBPOEW
Mr. Eugene West, Esq., Grand Master, Odd Fellows of Virginia
and sponsored by
The Congress of Racial Equality, CORE;
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
1. Walker also noted that the Congress of Racial Equality had provided initial funds for the protest and had supplied an organizer, CORE field secretary Gordon Carey. Following SCLC's 2 October conference in Norfolk, black leaders from Virginia formed a state chapter of the organization (Walter L. Hamilton to Friend of Civil Rights, Equality and Freedom, 24 October 1958).
2. Walker to King, 26 November 1958; King to Walker, 3 December 1958.
3. About eighteen hundred protesters attended the demonstration, which began with a mass meeting at the Richmond Mosque and concluded after a rainy two-mile march to the state capitol ("Negro Protest Called A New 'Moral Force,'" Richmond News Leader, 2 January 1959).
MLKP-MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Boston University, Boston, Mass.