On 20 October Birmingham police arrested thirteen African Americans for violating an ordinance mandating segregated seating on city buses. Fred Shuttlesworth was arrested on conspiracy charges the following day, and on 23 October the fourteen protesters were convicted and held without bond to await sentencing.1 On 27 October three Montgomery ministers, sent by the MIA to support the Birmingham campaign, were arrested for vagrancy at the Shuttleworth home.2 In the following telegram, King informs Roosevelt of a “virtual reign of terror” against Birmingham's black leaders and urges her to press the attorney general and Alabama officials for an investigation.3
mrs eleanor roosevelt=
park sheraton hotel=
a virtual reign of terror grips birmingham ala. rev f l shuttlesworth and other negro leaders arrested, denied bail, held incommunicado for 5 days, denied counsel, declared guilty and now face up to 3 months as result of non-violent effort to eradicate segregation. three montgomery clergymen offering spiritual comfort to mrs shuttlesworth were arrested in her home. charged with vagrancy denied counsel and ordered not to return to birmingham. this is part of a lawless pattern which results in bombing the churches, synagogues, schools and homes. it is all the more fearful because in birmingham it operates through constituted police authority. the jailing of these leaders is an act of terror designed to deprove southern negro communities of leadership. we urge you to send messages to united states atorney general, governor of alabama, mayor of birmingham and newspaper publishers and civic leaders protesting this national scandal. your action can save lives=
martin luther king jr president southern christian
1. Ted Poston, “Negro Leaders Held Incommunicado in Ala.,” New York Post, 27 October 1958.
2. In response to suggestions that the arrests of ministers Solomon S. Seay, A. W. Wilson, and H. H. Hubbard were heavy-handed, police commissioner Eugene Connor declared that “Birmingham does not need any outside agitators coming into our city and dabbling in our affairs” (“Birmingham Police Seize Three Montgomery Ministers,” Atlanta Daily World, 28 October 1958).
3. King sent similar telegrams to several labor leaders and civil rights supporters, including Stephen G. Cary of the American Friends Service Committee. After Attorney General William Rogers agreed to investigate the jailings, Connor accused King and others of conspiring to provoke federal intervention in the case (“King-Reuther Team Blamed In Jury Probe,” Montgomery Advertiser, 19 November 1958; see also King to Cary, 30 October 1958, and Cary to King, 3 November 1958).
ERP-NHyF, Eleanor Roosevelt Collection, General Services Administration, National Archives and Record Service, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, N.Y.