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To Dwight D. Eisenhower

Author: 
King, Martin Luther, Jr. ([Southern Christian Leadership Conference])
Date: 
November 5, 1957
Location: 
Montgomery, Ala.
Genre: 
Letter
Topic: 
Civil Rights Act, 1957
Little Rock School Crisis, 1957

Details

SCLC praises Eisenhower’s stance on the Little Rock desegregation situation and requests that he move quickly to appoint the new Civil Rights Commission. On 7 November Eisenhower designated the six-member committee, naming retired Supreme Court justice Stanley Reed as chair.1

Honorable Dwight D. Eisenhower
White House
Washington, D.C.

Dear Mr President:

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference in session at Memphis, in the state of Tennessee, extends its warmest commendation for the positive and forthright stand that you have taken in the Little Rock school situation. You have shown to the nation and the world that the United States is a nation dedicated to law and order rather than mob rule. In an hour so charged with the tragic possibility of world conflict, America can ill afford to be guilty of sins against her own way of life.2

It is regrettable that by intransigence and irresponsibility, the governor and irresponsible elements of the state made it necessary for the use of troops to guarantee the rights of citizenship to Negroes in Little Rock. But the law of this land must be enforced or the result will be anarchy. The irresponsibility and intransigence of public officials must be countered by the stern determination of the chief executive to secure for all citizens the blessings of first-class-citizenship.

As regrettable as it is, however, that federal troops were necessary, they must remain until there is every evidence that state and municipal officials in Arkansas will respect and enforce the decrees of the federal court. We, therefore, urge you, Mr President, to keep troops in Little Rock until it is possible for Negro children to attend school freely without the threat of physical or psychological violence.3

Little Rock points a dramatic finger to the urgent necessity for the President to confer with Negro leaders from across the nation. Men and women of good will, both black and white, look for Presidential guidance in solving the problem created by the breadkown of communications between the races in the South. By meeting with Negro leaders as soon as it is conveniently possible the President will do much to give heart and courage to white people fo good will who remain silent when their voices are needed.

We find reason to hope that the Civil rights commission that is called for in the recent Civil Rights bill will do much to remove existing inequities in voting in the South. Yet, the time is passing and the effectiveness of the commission is being diminished in proportion to the time that is allowed to pass before the appointment of the commission. It is urgent that this commission be appointed immediately. We further urge you, Mr. President, to include on this commission two qualified Negroes of whom one should be from the South.4

May the richest blessings of almighty God continue to be yours,

Sincerely,
Martin Luther King, Jr.
President

1 In mid-December Reed resigned and Eisenhower elevated vice-chair John Alfred Hannah to the post.

2. King elaborated on this point during an interview in Memphis: “Far from overshadowing the race problem, [Russian scientific advancement] points up the need even more for unity at home. Sputnik reveals that we need all the brains we can find—we can’t survive if we spend our time fighting over whether the Negro is human or not” (James H. White, “Voting Rights Drive Opened By Negroes,”Memphis Press Scimitar, 5 November 1957). Less than a week before the release of this telegram, the announcement of the second successful launching of a Soviet satellite triggered congressional calls for a review of U.S. satellite and missile capabilities.

3. On 24 October the nine black students entered Central High School without troop escort for the first time. The last 101st Airborne troops pulled out on 27 November, leaving the federalized National Guard on duty in Little Rock.

4. Missouri-born J. Ernest Wilkins, Assistant Labor Secretary, was the only African American named to the Commission.

Source: 

NAACPP, DLC, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.