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To Dwight D. Eisenhower

Author: 
King, Martin Luther, Jr.
Date: 
March 8, 1956 to March 15, 1956
Genre: 
Letter
Topic: 
Montgomery Bus Boycott

Details

On 14 March at Eisenhower’s weekly news conference a reporter asked the president if a meeting at the White House of local black and white leaders would help ease tensions about integration. Eisenhower suggested a congressional joint commission as an alternative. “I would like to have that body organized, bipartisan, and with every point of view represented on it, and as quickly as possible,” he said. The following week, when questioned about the Montgomery bus boycott, Eisenhower answered: “As I understand [it] there is a state law about boycotts, and it is under that kind of thing that these people are being brought to trial.” 1

In this drafted telegram, which may have been written in response to Eisenhower’s 14 March comment, King urges the president to intervene in the boycott: “We are convinced, Mr. President, that by taking a direct interest in this stalemated situation you and you alone can tap fountainheads of goodwill.” He asks that Eisenhower host a meeting between bus boycott leaders, owners of Montgomery City Lines, and “other universally respected persons.” A press release announcing the dispatch of the telegram was also drafted.2 Neither the telegram nor the press statement was released.

(Suggestion: if the President is to receive the telegram on, say, Friday morning, the text could be given to the press for release in the Friday afternoon papers.

As a rule, a story receives better press coverage if released for the afternoon papers. The reason is that, on the following day, the morning papers will usually pick it up as well.)

For fourteen weeks a united Negro community, led by the clergy, has stayed off the Montgomery busses in a peaceful protest against injustice.

With dignity and with the power of the human spirit we have sought to implement the American tradition of fair play. Our threefold demands are simple and moderate: courtesy from the bus drivers, seating on a first-come first-served basis, and employment of Negro drivers on busses transversing predominantly Negro neighborhoods.

Throughout these past three months our approach has been non-violent and our language non-inflammatory. Nevertheless bombs have been thrown at two Negro homes, clergymen and laymen have been arrested en masse under an obsolete “conspiracy” statute, and the wild charges of pro-segregation extremists have set the tone of the criticism that our white brothers have directed toward our spiritual movement.

Although fear has silenced many tongues we know that not all white citizens are against us. By no means do we seek to divide Montgomery along color lines. We merely say that, despite hardship and persecution and in the face of pressure and inconvenience, we shall not ride again on the busses under the humiliating conditions that have so long prevailed. Every Negro in our city who has been arrested faces the prospect of imprisonment with equanimity and with a readiness to sacrifice for our cause.

We are convinced, Mr. President, that by taking a direct interest in this stalemated situation you and you alone can tap fountainheads of goodwill and activate “white corpuscles” of brotherhood.

Therefore we appeal to you to summon to the White House the leaders of the Negro community, the owners of the Montgomery City Line and several universally respected persons.

Faced with the great prestiage of your office and confronted by world public opinion, the participants in such an exploratory conference ought to be able to come to a meeting of minds out of which an amicable settlement could then spring.

Even if no immediately tangible results were achieved, the very meeting itself would stimulate the intangible forces that reduce anxiety, fear and tension.

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., President
Montgomery Improvement Association
309 Jackson Street Montgomery
telephone: 35179

1.Public Papers of the President of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower (Washington: GPO, 1960-1961), pp. 305 and 335. During this period congressmen Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., and Charles C. Diggs, Jr., joined others, including AFL-CIO president George Meany, in calling on Eisenhower to convene a meeting of southern leaders to ease tensions in the region. Administration officials refused to respond, contending that Eisenhower had already asked Congress to create a commission on racial matters and that therefore “it is not the President’s present intention to abrogate in effect his recommendation by now proceeding without regard to the Congress in the establishment of such a commission” (see Powell to Eisenhower, 2 March 1956; Diggs to Eisenhower, 9 March 1956; Meany to Eisenhower, 9 February 1956; and Bryce N. Harlow to Diggs, 12 March 1956).

2. Press release, “King Urges Exploratory White House Conference,” 8-15 March 1956.

Source: 

MLKP, MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University, Boston, Mass.