On 2 May, a nineteen-year-old student at Florida A & M University was abducted while on a double date and raped by four white men. Students staged demonstrations and a one-day classroom boycott, which ended when officials announced that a grand jury would consider charges against the men who had confessed to the crime.1 In the following telegram to the student body president, King applauds the students’ “courageous, dignified and effective demonstration.”2 At the bottom of this copy of the telegram, Ella Baker added the following: “We will write Mr. Taylor a note, inviting him and other students to participate in our Tallahassee Conference. EJB.”3
Mr. CLIFFORD TAYLOR
President, Student Body
Florida A & M University
THE SOUTHERN CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE COMMENDS YOU AND YOUR FELLOW STUDENTS FOR YOUR COURAGEOUS, DIGNIFIED AND EFFECTIVE DEMONSTRATION, PROTESTING THE MASS RAPE OF YOUR SCHOOLMATE AND WARNING AGAINST “DOUBLE STANDARDS OF JUSTICE”.4 YOUR DETERMINED BUT NON-VIOLENT DEMANDS CERTAINLY ADDED [strikeout illegible] VIGOR TO THE PROSECUTION OF THE CASE AND HAVE GIVEN NEW HOPE TO ALL OF US WHO STRUGGLE FOR HUMAN DIGNITY AND EQUAL JUSTICE. GOD BLESS ALL OF YOU.
REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.
SOUTHERN CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE, Inc.
208 Auburn Avenue, N.E.
1. “A&M Student Strike Ends; Jury Recalled,” St. Petersburg Times, 5 May 1959, and “Leon Grand Jury Meets Tomorrow,” Tallahassee Democrat, 5 May 1959.
2. In a telegram to Florida governor Leroy Collins two days earlier, SCLC associate director Baker noted that “with memories of Negroes who have been lynched and executed on far less evidence, Negro leaders from all over the South will certainly examine every development in this case. . . . What will Florida’s answer be?” In Collins’s 4 June reply he explained to Baker that “all judicial processes have proceeded efficiently and expeditiously.” The four white men, who ranged in age from sixteen to twenty-four, received life sentences for the rape (Hallie Boyles, “Life Sentences Given to All 4 Youths for Rape,” Tallahassee Democrat, 22 June 1959).
3. For more on the Tallahassee conference, see Statement Adopted at Spring Session of SCLC, 15 May 1959, pp. 205-208 in this volume.
4. Student protesters carried signs demanding that “double standards of justice must be eliminated” (“Negroes Ask Justice for Co-Ed Rapists,” Atlanta Constitution, 4 May 1959).
MLKP-MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Boston University, Boston, Mass.