King replies to a letter from Lawson, whom he had recommended as a possible successor at Dexter.1 King comments on Lawson’s 27 March visit to Montgomery and jokes that, although Dexter was known as “the ‘big folks’ church,” he had learned during his time there “that some professional people have religion also.”2
Rev. Earl Wesley Lawson
The Emmanuel Baptist Church
Hillside and Eastern Avenues
This is just a note to acknowledge receipt of your letter of April 2, and to say how good it was to hear from you.3 I have heard nothing but glowing echoes from your visit to Montgomery and Dexter. The members were carried away and I mean just that. So it seems that if you want the church you have it in your hands. I understand that they are inviting you back for another sermon, and I certainly hope you will see your way clear to return. As I said to you before, Dexter is a good church with even greater possibilities. It is often referred to as the “big folks” church. But you will find that it has some of the finest people that you will ever meet in its membership. It is true that most of them are professional people. But I discovered at Dexter that some professional people have religion also.
As I said, Dexter has real possibilities for further development. I had many things in mind when I went there, and I regret that I never brought them into full realization because of my being catapulted into a leadership position which kept me out of the city so much. I am convinced, however, that a new man of dedication and ability such as yourself can carry Dexter to higher and higher heights.
I don’t know when you will come this way again, but if you are in through Atlanta, please feel free to stop in to see me. I am on the road quite a bit, but it is altogether probable that I will be in town if you happen to come through.
Best wishes and God’s blessings upon you in all of your endeavors.
Very sincerelyy yours,
1. In a 21 March letter, Dexter deacon R. D. Nesbitt informed King of Lawson’s upcoming trial sermon and expressed the hope that “he will do a good job and will be the man” (see also King to Nesbitt, 18 April 1960). Earl Wesley Lawson (1919-) was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. He received a B.Th. (1941) from the American Theological Seminary and later received an A.B. (1945) from Morehouse College. Lawson also obtained a B.D. and S.T.M. (1948) from Andover Newton Theological School. From 1947 until 1978, he served as pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Malden, Massachusetts.
2. Lawson returned to Dexter in late May for another engagement, but in a 13 July letter he told King that he had heard nothing further from the church: “I guess the ‘pulpit call’ is out. Thanks for recommending me anyway.” Dexter later called Herbert Eaton to its pulpit (see King to Eaton, 30 September 1960, pp. 513-514 in this volume).
3. In addition to describing his visit to Montgomery in his 2 April letter, Lawson informed King that the Girls’ Guild at his church was named “Coretta” and requested a large photo of her.
MLKP-MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University, Boston, Mass.