Fisk University president Johnson tells King that he has been honored with the “Fisk Distinguished Service Award,” to be presented at the 28 May Fisk commencement ceremony.1 King received the award in person and wrote a letter of appreciation on 5 June in which he assured Johnson that “such recognition gives me new determination to continue the struggle for freedom and justice.”
The Reverend Martin Luther King
309 South Jackson Street
Dear Reverend King:
This year, for the first time, Fisk University is presenting a citation with a cash award to the person who, in the judgment of a committee selected from over the country, has contributed most to the cause of race relations, civil liberties and economic justice during the current year. This citation is known as the “Fisk Distinguished Service Award” and carries a cash honorarium of five hundred dollars. This annual award is sponsored by the Fisk General Alumni Association and a special donor, Dr. Jerome Davis, the latter in honor of the memory of his father, Jerome Dean Davis, pioneer missionary to Japan who fought all his life for equality between the races.
The committee has recommended you overwhelmingly for this first award and I should like to ask if you could be present on Commencement Day, May 28 at 11:00 A.M. to receive it. The members of the committee are as follows: Dr. Homer Cooper, Chicago; Judge William Hastie, Philadelphia; Mrs. William Thomas Mason, Washington; Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, Atlanta; Mr. P. L. Prattis, Pittsburgh; Mr. A. Maceo Smith, Dallas; Mr. Willard S. Townsend, Chicago; Dr. Jerome Davis and myself.
It is the wish of the committee to withhold the name of the awardee until the date of presentation.
Charles S. Johnson
1 Charles Spurgeon Johnson (1893-1956), born in Bristol, Virginia, to a former slave, received B.A.’s from Virginia Union University (1916) and the University of Chicago (1917). He joined the National Urban League in 1921, where he served as director of research and editor of the league’s monthly journal. In 1928 he became the first director of the Institute of Social Studies at Fisk University and five years later took over the directorship of the Institute of Race Relations at Swarthmore College. Johnson served on a League of Nations commission investigating allegations of slavery in Liberia in 1930 and was sent to Japan to help reorganize Japan’s educational system after World War II. In 1947 Johnson became the first African-American president of Fisk University.
MLKP-MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University, Boston, Mass.