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Draft, Statement to Judge James E. Webb after Arrest at Rich's Department Store

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Author: King, Martin Luther, Jr.

Date: October 19, 1960 ?

Location: Atlanta, Ga. ?

Genre: Speech

Topic: Martin Luther King, Jr. - Arrests

Student movements


On 19 October—three days after the close of the SNCC conference—Atlanta police arrested King and student activists who had requested service at the Magnolia Room, a segregated restaurant at Rich’s department store in downtown Atlanta.1 Organized by the Atlanta Committee on an Appeal for Human Rights the sit-in was one of several conducted simultaneously at lunch counters throughout the city.2 After charges were dropped against many of the demonstrators, King and thirty-five others remained in custody, refusing to post bond.3 King proclaims his willingness to remain “in jail a year or even ten years.” King may have used this draft, handwritten in a wire-bound notebook, to form his remarks during his arraignment later that day before Judge Webb.4

Your Honor, I would simply like to say that I dont think we have done anything wrong in seeking to be served at the Magnolia Tea Room of  Rich’s. We assembled quietly, peacefully and non-violently to secure seek service just as any other citizen. If we lived in a totalitarian regiem or a gestapo system I could see how we might have been wrong. But one of the great glories of democracy is the right to protest for right. So we do not feel that we have violated the law.

If by chance, your honor, we are guilty of violating the law please be assured that we did it to bring the whole issue of racial injustice under the scrutiny of the conscience of Atlanta. I must honestly say that we firmly believe that segregation is evil, and that our southland will never reach its full economic, political and moral maturity until this cancerous disease is removed. We do not seek to remove this unjust system for ourselves alone but for our white brothers as well. The festering sore of segregation debilitates the white man as well as the Negro. So if our action in anyway served to bring this issue to the forefront of the conscience of the community it could it was not undertaken in vain.

We are not dangerous rabblerousers or nagging professional agitators. Our actions grow out of a deep seated con Our actions grow out of deep seated concern for the moral heath of our community. We have not been motivated by some foreign ideology—communistic or any other. We did it because of our love for America, our southland and our white brothers.

And sir I know you have a legal obligation facing you at this hour. This judicial obligation may cause you to bound us over to another court rather than dismiss the charge. But sir I must say that I have a moral obligation facing me at this hour. This divine imperative drive me to say that if you find it necessary to set a bond, I cannot in all good conscience have anyone go my bail. I will coose jail rather than bail, even if it takes re means remaining in jail a year or even ten years. Mayby it will take this type of self suffering on the part of numerous Negroes to finally expose the moral defenses of the our white brother who happen to be misguided and therby awaken the doazing conscience of our community.5

1. Although reporters credited King with igniting the protest, he maintained that “the students asked me to come” (“More Sitdowns Rumored Today,” Atlanta Journal, 20 October 1960).

2. Demonstrations took place at seven other Atlanta department and variety stores, but arrests occurred only at Rich’s.

3. King and the students were charged under a new state anti-trespassing law (Bruce Galphin and Keeler McCartney, “King, 51 Others Arrested Here in New Sit-In Push,” Atlanta Constitution, 20 October 1960).

4. The notebook may have belonged to a student jailed with King. A handwritten title, “Great Issues,’’ was on its cover and inside was a page of notes dated 3 October 1960. Atlanta’s Morris Brown College offered a course called Great Issues, which was mandatory for students in their senior year (Morris Brown College Catalog, 1960-1961).

5. According to the Chicago Defender King told the judge: ”I cannot in all good conscience accept bail . . . I will stay in jail a year if necessary. It is our sincere hope that the acceptance of suffering on our part will serve to awaken the dozing consciousness of our community (“King Opens New Integration Fight,” Chicago Defender, 22-28 October 1960). In a 19 October telegram, SCLC public relations director James Wood alerted J. Oscar Lee of the National Council of Churches to King’s arrest and included portions of King’s courthouse statement: “We do not seek publicity. We do not seek to disturb the city. We come in humility, in search of the same treatment accorded other patrons. I love my white brother. I cannot in good conscience accept bond or bail. I will stay in jail as long as is necessary.” A similar wire was sent to Roy Wilkins (Wood to Wilkins, 19 October 1960).

Source: CSKC, INP, Coretta Scott King Collection, In Private Hands.

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