On 13 March, SCLC advisory board member and Michigan congressman Diggs sent King a telegram from his Washington office expressing disappointment at the low rate of African-American voter registration in the South.1 "Even in Montgomery," he noted, "Negro voter applicants have dropped below normal." He continued, "rallies and speeches are fine for inspirational purposes but a successful registration campaign demands skillful follow up in the field."2 Diggs met with King in Detroit on 14 March.
Congressman Charles C. Diggs
House of Representatives
Dear Congressman Diggs:
This is just a note to express my appreciation to you for making my recent visit to Detroit such a magnificent one. It was a great privilege to have you escort me through the Diggs Enterprises. Although I knew the Diggs Enterprises represented an important business set-up, I had no idea it was so extensive until the other day. You and your father are doing a marvelous job in the world of business.3
I am also deeply grateful to you for the interest which you have taken in the Voter Registration Program. Your wise and judicial counsel at this point is always greatly appreciated.
I was glad to get your telegram and I will contact Congressman Dawson in the not too distant future.4 I am always proud to hear of the great work you are doing. Please know that you always have my moral support. You are doing a great work, not only for the Negro, but for the whole of American Democracy.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
1. Charles C. Diggs, Jr. (1922-1998).
2. On 25 June 1958, Diggs wrote King encouraging SCLC to consider South Carolina a focal point for registration activities: "There is a heavy Negro population and no voting restrictions on them." Yet, citing recent statistics showing that only ten percent of the voters in the state were black, Diggs lamented the "general apathy" that seemed to prevail in that state. King responded on 9 July, informing Diggs that he had turned the matter over to SCLC executive director John Tilley.
3. Established by Charles Diggs, Sr., in 1921, Diggs Enterprises included the House of Diggs, one of Michigan’s largest funeral homes, and an insurance company. Diggs, Jr. later succeeded his father as the head of the business.
4. In his letter Diggs had suggested that SCLC become familiar with "political techniques" that had succeeded in the North, urging King to confer with Illinois congressman William Dawson, who was highly influential among black Chicago voters.
MLKP, MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University, Boston, Mass.