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To Claude Barnett

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Author: King, Martin Luther, Jr.

Date: March 24, 1960

Location: Atlanta, Ga.?

Genre: Letter

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


On 21 March South African police in the black township of Sharpeville killed more than sixty peaceful protesters who had been demonstrating against pass laws, which required blacks to carry identification. The incident sparked a massive outbreak of strikes, demonstrations, and riots in South Africa and focused international criticism on the apartheid regime. In a telegram sent the following day, Claude Barnett, head of the Associated Negro Press (ANP), requested that King wire him a “brief reaction to slaughter by police troops and planes of [Negroes] in South Africa conducting peaceful mass demonstration against restrictive law.” Barnett queried, “Is there a lesson for USA where protests are also in progresss”? He released excerpts of the following draft over the ANP wire on 28 March.1

mr. claude barnett
associated negro press
3531 south parkway
chicago, illinois

the recent mass murder of africans engaged in a {the) peaceful protest against restrictive law is a tragic and shameful expression of man’s inhumanity to man. such barbaric and uncivilized acts are shocking to all men of goodwill. this tragic massacre by police troops in south africa should arouse the conscience of the whole world. this tragic occurrence in south africa should also serve as a warning signal to the united states where peaceful demonstrations are also being conducted by student groups. as long as segregation continues to exist; as long as gestapo-like tactics are used by officials of southern communities; and as long as {there are} governors and united states senators arrogantly defy the law of the land, the united states is faced with a potential reign of terror more barbaric than anything we see in south africa.

martin luther king, jr., president 
the southern christian leadership conference

1. Barnett also published reactions from William V. S. Tubman, president of Liberia, and Senator John F. Kennedy, chairman of the subcommittee on African Affairs (Associated Negro Press, Press release, 28 March 1960). King was later among the signatories of a letter to U.S. secretary of state Christian A. Herter, urging him to recall the ambassador to South Africa and to suspend purchases of South African gold (Samuel H. Beer et al. to King, 8 April 1960, and Americans for Democratic Action, Press release, 17 April 1960). Claude Albert Barnett (1889-1967), born in Sanford, Florida, graduated from Tuskegee Institute in 1906 and moved to Chicago, where he worked as a postal clerk. In 1919 he founded the Associated Negro Press, a wire service for African American newspapers. Barnett traveled to the Ghanian independence celebration in 1957 with his wife, who recorded a radio interview with King while there (King, Interview by Etta Moten Barnett, 6 March 1957, in Papers 4:145-148).

Source: MLKP, MBU, Martin Luther King Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University, Boston, Mass.

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