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To Chester Bowles

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Author: King, Martin Luther, Jr.; Pike, James A. (James Albert) (International Sponsoring Committee) 

Date: November 8, 1957

Location: New York, N.Y. 

Genre: Letter

Topic: Martin Luther King, Jr. - Political and Social Views


In mid-1957 King joined the National Committee of the American Committee on Africa.1 Later that year he agreed to serve on the International Sponsoring Committee for a day of protest against South Africa’s apartheid government, which the American Committee on Africa had initiated.2 On behalf of this effort, King and United States chairman James A. Pike call for worldwide rallies and demonstrations on Human Rights Day, 10 December 1957, and announce a freedom rally in New York City on that day, with speakers to include Eleanor Roosevelt.3

The Honorable Chester Bowles
Hayden’s Point
Essex, Connecticut

Dear Ambassador Bowles:

We are writing to you in the conviction that the time has come for a world-wide protest against the organized inhumanity of the Government of the Union of South Africa. We have watched with great concern the relentless pursuit of official racism (apartheid) by the South African Government. It has defied the most elemental considerations of human decency in its treatment of African and Asian citizens, loosely called non-whites. Our concern has turned to horror as we have learned of the brutal treatment of these non-white South Africans and the extension of totalitarian control into almost every area of human life. What has been almost as shocking is the callous disregard of this tragedy by the free peoples of the world.

No dramatic demonstration of universal protest has been initiated. It is as if we have forgotten that “the bell tolls” for humankind in South Africa too. We cannot permit this organized crime against a whole people to go uncondemned. The Government of South Africa must know that those who cherish freedom repudiate South Africa’s organized inhumanity. We must also demonstrate to those courageous South Africans of all races who struggle to build a free and democratic society that we support their efforts.

At this crucial time, when 156 leaders of the opposition to “apartheid” are being tried for treason because they desire a democratic, multi-racial society, and when new laws injecting racism into the churches, hospitals and universities are about to be passed, we are obliged to record our protest in the hope that the Government of South Africa will respond to moral suasion.4

We have therefore agreed to serve as chairmen of an International Committee composed of world leaders in support of a world-wide protest against the South African Government’s apartheid policies. We are calling upon civic, labor, professional, political, church, educational and other leaders throughout the world to join in this campaign. We are urging them to plan public demonstrations on or about Human Rights Day, December 10, 1957, to protest South Africa’s apartheid and to demand that South Africa live up to its obligations under the United Nations Charter. As part of our participation in this campaign, we are sponsoring a freedom rally in New York’s Manhattan Center on the evening of December 10th. Among the speakers will be Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Senator Jacob K. Javits and Mr. Roy Wilkins.

We want to personally extend an invitation to you to participate in this program. Your presence would greatly contribute to the success of this occasion.

We know that you will do everything you can to support this undertaking. We look forward to your affirmative reply.

Very sincerely yours,
[signed] James A. Pike
The Very Rev. James A. Pike
United States Chairman

[signed] Martin Luther King
The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
United States Vice-Chairman

1. John Gunther to King, 24 June 1957; Ballou to Gunther, 8 July 1957.

2. The protest also included the release of the Declaration of Conscience, signed by 134 world leaders (International Sponsoring Committee, Declaration of Conscience on South Africa and Day of Protest, 10 December 1957).

3. Bowles replied to this letter on 14 November, expressing his delight with the "vigorous assertion of the need for international protest over the incredible developments in the Union of South Africa"; for more on the Day of Protest see Oliver Tambo to King, 18 November 1957, in this volume. James Albert Pike (1913-1969), born in Oklahoma City, received his A.B. (1934) and LL.B. (1936) from the University of Southern California. Pike earned his J.S.D. (1938) from Yale University, a B.D. (1951) from Union Theological Seminary, and later an LL.D. (1960) from the University of Southern California. A well-known spokesman for liberal Protestantism, Pike became dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York in 1952. Leaving in 1958 to become Episcopal bishop of California, Pike hosted King's visit to San Francisco's Grace Cathedral in 1965.

4. King and Pike refer to the "Treason Trial" that followed a country-wide raid in late 1956, in which South African police rounded up 156 leaders of the anti-apartheid struggle, among them Nelson Mandela, Albert Lutuli, Walter Sisulu, and Oliver Tambo. They were charged with high treason and conspiracy to overthrow the government, crimes punishable by death under South African law. Indictment proceedings began in December 1956, and a year later the South African government withdrew its charges against 61 of the accused. The remaining defendants went to trial in August 1958, with the last accused being acquitted in 1961.

Source: CB, CtY-BR, Chester Bowles Collection, Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, New Haven, Conn.

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