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To Deolinda Rodrigues

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Author: King, Martin Luther, Jr.

Date: July 21, 1959

Location: Montgomery, Ala.?

Genre: Letter

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


In a 30 May letter Rodrigues, a twenty-year-old Angolan student living in Brazil, requested King’s advice and support for the independence movement in her native country but admonished: “Please just do what You really can with no harm for You.…If some people have to pay with their lives…let it be ourselves.”1 In his reply below, King suggests that the Angolan movement needs a “person or some few persons” to symbolize the struggle: “As soon as your symbol is set up it is not difficult to get people to follow, and the more the oppressor seeks to stop and defeat the symbol, the more it solidifies the movement.”2

Miss Deolinda Rodrigues

Dear Miss Rodrigues:

Thank you for your very kind letter of recent date. I have read every line with great interest. It is indeed encouraging to know of your interest in the freedom of the people of your country. I am very glad to get firsthand information about the situation in Angola. I have heard about it from others who live outside of the country, but there is nothing like getting a firsthand report.

It seems that the Portuguese are some of the slowest people to give up the possessions in foreign territories. It is very unfortunate that they lack the vision to see the handwriting on the wall. It is always tragic to see an individual or nation seeking to stand up and stop an irristable tidal wave.

I do not know if I can give you any concrete suggestion as to what to do in your particular situation because it is often necessary to see it for yourself before you can give a definite answer. I would say, however, that the first step toward rectifying the situation is to develop real leadership in your country. Some one person or some few persons must stand as a symbol for your independence movement. As soon as your symbol is set up it is not difficult to get people to follow, and the more the oppressor seeks to stop and defeat the symbol, the more it solidifies the movement. It would be a wonderful thing for you to return to your country with this idea in mind. Freedom is never achieved without suffering and sacrifice. It comes through the persistent work and tireless efforts of dedicated individuals. You must also know that what is happening in other countries of Africa will inevitably have repercussions in your own country. It is impossible for Angola to stand in Africa and not be affected by what is happening in Nigeria and Kenya and Rhodesia. And so your real hope lies in the fact that independence will be a reality in the whole of Africa in the next few years. You have my prayers and best wishes for God’s blessings in all that you are doing. I hope that your studies ahead will be most fruitful and rewarding.

Under separate cover I am sending a copy of my book, Stride Toward Freedom. Please accept this as a gift from me. I hope that you will find this humble work of mine somewhat helpful.3

Very sincerely yours,
Martin L. King, Jr.

1. Rodrigues also wrote that she would “pay a high price for it if portugueses know I have written you about this” and added: “It would be good because it is easier for me to suffer with my People than to be well here. Just I have to do something to help ANGOLA before I am jailed too.” Deolinda Rodrigues Francisco de Almeida (1939–1967), born in Catete, Angola, studied sociology in São Paulo, Brazil, after receiving a Methodist mission scholarship in 1959. She left São Paulo for the United States in 1960, fearing that she would be deported under the terms of an extradition treaty between Portugal and Brazil. She studied at Drew University before returning to Africa in 1962 to direct the Angolan Volunteer Corps for Refugee Assistance in Congo (Leopoldville). As an activist in the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), Rodrigues worked as a poet, translator, teacher, and radio host. She was killed in prison after being captured by the Congo-based Front for the National Liberation of Angola, an opposing political group backed by the United States.

2. In her 26 September reply, Rodrigues wrote: “I aggre that a symbol for our independence movement is really necessary. Our leaders are not boast widely and openly but I know we have at Home a hidden political party working to awake my People and which is getting more and more followers. Some of these leaders are already arrested and surely their imprisonment is awakening more people. [¶] Indeed it hurts more than I thought it could for me to be away from Home and be well here while my People is having harder tryings there. The only thing which becomes me glad is that after prepare myself better I can also serve better my People at Home. This thought and God’s presence help me a great deal to bear homesickness.” For additional correspondence, see King to Rodrigues, 21 December 1959, pp. 345–346 in this volume.

3. In her 30 May letter, Rodrigues had inquired about obtaining a copy of Stride Toward Freedom and asked King to find someone with whom she might exchange her “whole, little African stamps collection” for a subscription to Ebony: “It is pretty wonderful that here I may get Ebony by mail with no censorship and no risk of being questioned or arrested because of it.”

Source: MLKP, MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Boston University, Boston, Mass.

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