In a 5 July 1957 letter King declined an offer from Howard president Mordecai Johnson to become the dean of the School of Religion, citing his desire to remain in the South and continue the fight against segregation. Less than a year later, Hill, the school’s acting dean, asked King to serve as a visiting lecturer.1 Hill wrote that by hiring King, he hoped the School of Religion “could become a focal point in the program for Civil Rights, voting Privileges in the South, non-violence and social changes, etc.”
Mr. Daniel G. Hill
School of Religion
Dear Mr. Hill:
I have given a great deal of prayerful thought to your letter of April 29th inviting me to join the faculty of the School of Religion of Howard University as Visiting Lecturer during the fall or spring semesters of 1958-59.
I regret, exceedingly, that at this time I must reluctantly decline your invitation. I want very much to do this, but with the rising tide of racial tensions in many areas of the south, I am called upon, without previous notice in many instances, to appear in certain areas to do what I can to alleviate a troubled situation.
This, not only keeps my schedule uncertain, but is exacting in time consumed and I am reluctant, at this time anyway, to add any other responsibilities to those already claiming me.
I plan to be out of the country for the first three months of 1959. When I return, I know I will face a mountain of accumulated mail and problems to which I will most certainly have to apply myself.
In the fall of this year, my publishers have me booked for a series of personal appearances in connection with the publication and distribution of my book, STRIDE TOWARD FREEDOM, so it looks as though the academic year 1958-59 would not be a good one.
The idea of doing this Visiting Lecturer “stint” is most intriguing to me, but I would like to approach it with a modicum of mental relaxation and tranquility. . . . or at a time when the tensions now surrounding me are lessened.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
1. Hill to King, 29 April 1958. Hill handled the arrangements for King’s appearances at Howard in December 1956 and November 1957 (see King to Hill, 20 December 1956 in Papers 3:490-491, and Hill to King, 11 October 1957).