King responds to Republican congressman Charles Chamberlain's recent letter soliciting his opinion of the Powell amendment, which would deny federal monies to states and school districts that maintain segregated facilities.1 Chamberlain thanked King for this letter on 20 May.
Mr. Charles E. Chamberlain
Congress of the United States
House of Representatives
Sixth District, Michigan
Dear Mr. Chamberlain:
On my return to the country I received your very kind letter of March 12, making inquiry concerning my views on the matter of Federal aid to education. I am very happy that you raised the question with me.
First I should say that this is a many-sided problem. After listening to the arguments on all sides, I can certainly find some merit in each argument. Those persons who feel that the Powell Amendment should not be attached have very good arguments, at points, to substantiate their position. I am perfectly willing to admit this, and I would not oversimplify the issue by stating that there is only one side to it.
On the other hand, I must admit that I lean more strongly toward the view that school aid should be prohibited from states that willfully refuse to comply with the Supreme Court's decision. I hold this view because I am convinced that the Federal Government must do something to convince the South that it must obey the law of the land. As it stands now the move toward integration is being carried out mainly by the judicial branch of the government. We lack positive action from the executive and legislative branches, and these are the branches that must implement and enforce the law of the land. After living in the South all of my life I have come to see through grim experience that the southern reactionaries will never fall in line voluntarily; it will only come through proper, moral, and legitimate pressure. If we wait on the South to implement the Supreme Court's decision we will be waiting for generations to come. Only by strong and aggressive positive action from the Federal Government will these things come into existence. And I feel that such a program as that implied in the Powell Amendment will do a great deal to implement the noble and sublime principles of our Constitution. It seems to me that this is not only a political issue but a deep and eternal moral issue.
As I have said above this is not at all an easy problem. I wish the time would permit me to go into it with you in greater detail. But it seems to be impossible at this time. In the meantime, however, it is my sincere hope that the Federal Government will become much more aggressive and positive in the area of civil rights, realizing that the civil rights issue is not some ephemeral domestic issue that can be kicked around by reactionary politicians, but it is an eternal moral issue which may well determine the destiny of our nation in the ideological struggle with Communism.
Very sincerely yours,
Martin L. King, Jr.,
1.The amendment, formulated in consultation with the NAACP, was first proposed by Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. in 1950; thereafter, he frequently attached it to congressional appropriations bills. Charles Ernest Chamberlain (1917-), born in Locke Township, Michigan, received both his B.A. (1941) and his J.D. (1949) from the University of Virginia. In 1956 he was elected to serve Michigan in the House of Representatives; he served six consecutive terms.
MLKP-MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Boston University, Boston, Mass.