Steere, a prominent Quaker and member of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), had met with King when she visited Montgomery in April 1956.1 She wrote King on 5 January to report on her meeting in New York with Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Familiar with King and the Montgomery bus boycott, Nehru had expressed interest in meeting him and responded “with enthusiasm” to the suggestion that King visit India. While conceding that King was “very much needed” in the South, Steere urged him to travel to India at some point and offered her assistance. Former U.S. ambassador to India Chester Bowles and others had also informed King of Nehru's interest.2
Miss Dorothy M. Steere
Dear Miss Steere:
Thanks for your very kind letter of January 5. I must apologize for being somewhat tardy in my reply. Absence from the city and the accumulation of a flood of mail account for the delay. Please know that this slowness in responding was not due to sheer negligence, but to the inevitable pressures of an involved situation. It was a real pleasure hearing from you and getting your very encouraging words. I can assure you that such moral support and encouraging words give me renewed courage and vigor to carry on.
I was very happy to hear of Prime Minister Nehru’s interest in my coming to India. I had planned to go to India during the month of March and April. Along with this, I had thought of going to the Gold Coast for its Independence celebration on the sixth of March. However, my plans have been changed now. I feel that your advice is good, and I had thought several weeks ago whether it would be expedient for me to leave the country at this time for any extended period. Since we are still the victims of tragic violence and it seems that we stand amid a reign of terror, I feel that it is necessary for me to be around as much as possible during this period in order to encourage our people to remain calm and non-violent. And so I have decided to postpone the trip to India until a little later in the year. I am still interested in going to the Gold Coast since this trip would only require my being away a little more than two weeks. I am not sure whether I am going but I am in the process of working on it.
I will be sure to contact you when I decide to go to India. I am sure that you and other Friends could be very helpful in this area.3
Thanks again for your kindness and interest. Please give my best regards to all of our friends around Haverford—especially to my good friend Dr. Ira Reid.4 Please feel free to write me at any time.
M. L. King, Jr.,
1. See Steere to King, 5 January 1957, and note 2 to Dorothy Canfield Fisher to King, 23 April 1956, in Papers 3:220. Dorothy McEachron Steere (1907-), born in Grand Haven, Michigan, received her B.A. (1928) from the University of Michigan. She was active in the AFSC, serving on several international missions during the late 1940s and 1950s, including visits to South Africa and India. Steere chaired AFSC’s religious education committee from 1950 to 1953 and also served on the board of directors of the NAACP.
2. Writing from India on 28 January, Bowles reported that Nehru’s interest in meeting King was shared by several other associates of Gandhi, including members of the late leader’s family: “Nothing would spread more goodwill for America than a visit here by someone who has tried to apply Gandhi’s principles in the United States. The stories I have told here of your peaceful boycott and the approach you have adopted in Montgomery have fortified people’s faith in the democratic method.” Unitarian minister Homer Alexander Jack had also reported on Steere’s conference with Nehru in an earlier letter (see Jack to King, 27 December 1956, in Papers 3:496-498).
3. The American Friends Service Committee served as one of the sponsors of King’s February 1959 trip to India.
4. Former Atlanta University professor Ira De Augustine Reid (1901-1968) succeeded W. E. B. DuBois as editor of Phylon in 1944; that same year he was elected the first associate director of the Southern Regional Council (SRC). Reid, a Quaker, became Haverford College’s first African-American professor in 1946. In the summer of 1948, King was among a group of field researchers who assisted Reid at Haverford in the preparation of a study of black Baptist ministers (Reid, The Negro Baptist Ministry: An Analysis of Its Profession, Preparation and Practices, 1951).
DDSP-PHC, Douglas Steere and Dorothy Steere Papers, Haverford College, Haverford, Pa., Box 65.