In December 1958 and January 1959 the United States Commission on Civil Rights held hearings into discriminatory voter registration practices. During the hearings, Alabama officials rebuffed the commission's attempts to access county voting records. At the conclusion of an SCLC-sponsored meeting on 24 January at Montgomery’s First Baptist Church, King and other Alabama black leaders drafted the following telegram to Eisenhower protesting this defiance and petitioning him to “manifest more serious concern for the potentially dangerous state of racism in Alabama.”1
the white house
75 negro leaders from all sections of alabama meeting in montgomery saturday january 24.2 voiced vigorous protest against continued emasculation of their citizenship rights, defiance of federal courts and breakdown of law and order as regards racial justice stop these citizens unanimously voted to petition the president the congress and the department of justice to manifest more serious concern for the potentially dangerous state of racism in alabama and to act with firmness consistent with the noblest democratic traditions of america and make real for negroes the rights guaranteed by the us constitution stop especially emphasized was the need for federal protection of negroes in their right to vote without fear of bodily harm or economic reprisal, their freedom to assemble without police interference and the sanctity and security of their homes stop the meeting was called jointly by the undersigned
rev k l buford acting president tuskegee civic association rev martin luther king jr president southern christian leadership conference mr w c patton president alabama co-ordinating association on registration and voting 208 auburn ave ne atlanta ga rm 203 southern christian leadership conference.3
1. The black leaders sent similar telegrams to Attorney General William Rogers and congressional leaders (SCLC, Press release, 28 January 1959). The group sent Eisenhower an additional telegram urging him to name an African American member to the Civil Rights Commission in light of the death of its only black member, J. Ernest Wilkins (King to Eisenhower, 27 January 1959). Replying on behalf of the president, White House special assistant Robert E. Hampton assured W. C. Patton on 29 January that Eisenhower “intends to appoint a capable and highly respected negro” to the commission. Eisenhower nominated former Howard University Law School dean George M. Johnson, who was confirmed on 21 April 1959.
2. SCLC associate director Ella Baker began planning the meeting in early January (Baker to King and Baker to Kenneth L. Buford, both dated 8 January 1959; see also Baker, “Agenda, Meeting on registration and voting in Alabama,” 24 January 1959).
3. Kenneth L. Buford (1917-), born in Pulaski, Virginia, received a B.A. (1939) from Livingston College and a B.Th. (1943) from the Bloomfield School of Religion. He served as pastor of Butler Chapel AME Zion Church from 1956 until 1966, and became Alabama state field director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) the following year. William C. Patton (1911-1997), born in Marion, Alabama, graduated from Alabama State College and worked as a high school teacher in the 1930s and 1940s. He served as leader of the NAACP Birmingham branch and was Alabama state conference president of the NAACP from 1947 to 1955. Patton later served as NAACP national director of voter education (1956-1978). He provided the NAACP national office with some of the first eyewitness accounts of the Montgomery bus protest and served as the association’s liaison with the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) in the early days of the boycott.
WCFO-KAbE, White House Central Files (Official File), Dwight D. Eisenhower Library, Abilene, Kan.