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To Ella J. Baker

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Author: King, Martin Luther, Jr.

Date: July 3, 1959

Location: Montgomery, Ala.?

Genre: Letter

Topic: Nonviolence


King suggests that Baker prepare a series of press releases for the upcoming "Institute on Non-Violent Resistance to Segregation" at Spelman College. In her 7 July reply, Baker detailed plans for the conference and informed King that his "suggestions regarding press releases will be followed." On 22 July, King delivered the keynote address at the conference, which was co-sponsored by SCLC, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and FOR.1

Miss Ella J. Baker
Executive Director
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference
208 Auburn Ave, N.E
Atlanta, Georgia

Dear Ella:

Enclosed is a copy of the letter that I have just received from the Indian Ambassador. Since we cannot get a figure of his caliber I suggest that we dispense with the mass meeting.2 This means that the conference will close after Friday afternoon's session.

In order to keep the conference before the public I would suggest getting a press release out every week leading up to the conference. In one of them you may stress the fact that Dr. Nelson will be one of the key speakers.3 This will give you an opportunity to make a statement about his background and his broad knowledge about the Gandhian philosophy. You may get another release out on Charles Lawrence and Richard Gregg.4 Another one might deal with the whole question of violence which has become a live issue as a result of the Williams case, making it clear that this conference will emerge with some answer to the pressing questions on the lips of people all over this nation.5

Very sincerely yours,


1. For more information on the institute, see Resolutions, First Southwide Institute on Nonviolent Resistance to Segregation, 11 August 1959, pp. 261-262 in this volume.

2. The Indian ambassador to the United States, M. C. Chagla, declined King's invitation to address the institute, explaining in a 1 July letter that it would be inappropriate for him "to intervene on a question which solely concerns the Government of this country and its people." He added: "I must keep aloof from all controversies and . . . the question of segregation is one of the most controversial subjects to-day" (see also King to Chagla, 19 June 1959).

3. An article that was likely drawn from a Baker press release appeared in the Atlanta Daily World before the conference (“Dr. William Stuart Nelson to Address Leadership Institute,” Atlanta Daily World, 14 July 1959). Nelson, the dean of Howard University, was an expert on Gandhi and had recently returned from an extended stay in India (see King to Nelson, 7 April 1959, pp. 181-182 ,in this volume).

4. SCLC, Press release, 3 July-22 July 1959. Lawrence was the national chairman of FOR (1955-1963); Gregg was a Gandhian scholar and a member of FOR.

5. SCLC, Press release, 25 July-28 July 1959. Union County, North Carolina, NAACP leader Robert F. Williams had recently advocated that African Americans defend themselves with weapons because of the failure of white authorities to protect black civil rights. For more on Williams, see King, Address at the Fiftieth Annual NAACP Convention, 17 July 1959, pp. 245-250 in this volume.

Source: SCLCE-GEU-S, Southern Christian Leadership Conference Records, 1864-2007, Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University, Atlanta, Ga., Box 20.

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