King solicits support for the Prayer Pilgrimage fiom a Montgomery labor leader.
Mr. Frank J. Gregory, President1
Shirt Workers Union, Local #490
2100 Early Street
Dear Mr. Gregory:
On the seventeenth of May, 1957 we will commemorate the third anniversary of the Supreme Court’s momentous decision outlawing segregation by leading a prayer pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. On that day thousands of Negroes and white persons of goodwill from all over the country will assemble at the Lincoln Memorial and have a service about two hours in length. The overall purpose of this pilgrimage is to arouse the conscience of the nation in favor of racial justice. The more specific purposes are to demonstrate the unity of the Negro in the struggle for freedom, the violence and terror which we suffer in the southland at this time, and to appeal to Congress to pass the Civil Rights Bill which is now being bottled up in committees by southern congressmen.
In such a noble venture we need the backing of all of the persons and organizations that we can gain. In Montgomery we are seeking to have a delegation from five hundred to a thousand persons. We would appreciate it very much if you would send a few delegates from your union and also make a sizable contribution to the chartering of a bus which will make it possible for many persons to go who would not otherwise have the means. As you so well know Montgomery has been in the limelight all over the nation and all over the world and it would look very bad if Montgomery is not highly represented in the Pilgrimage.2 Your contribution and support are greatly needed.
I might say that we have already received strong and powerful support from organized labor. Most of the major unions of the country have contributed thousands of dollars for the promotion of the event. Walter Reuther for instance sent letters to all of his locals requesting them to send delegations and also money.3 I hope you will find it possible to have your union represented. If you can do this and also make a contribution toward the chartering of a bus I would appreciate your contacting me on this matter immediately. Please excuse me for writing you so late, but the whole project has been rather rushed and we only had four weeks for planning.
Thank you in advance for your cooperation.
Yours very truly,
M. L. King, Jr.,
1.Frank J. Gregory (1920-), horn in Montgomery County, Alabama, graduated from Lutheran School in 1936. He became a garment cutter at the Reliance Manufacturing Company in Montgomery in 1938. There he helped organize the Shirt Workers Union, Local 490, which won recognition in 1945. Gregory became the union’s vice president that year and was elected president of the local in 1950. He is the husband of Hazel Gregory, MIA secretary from 1956 to 1958.
2.Although Gregory never responded directly to this letter, Montgomery citizens were well represented at the Prayer Pilgrimage. A list of fifty-four local people planning to attend the march was compiled by the MIA, and a car caravan led by twenty station wagons used during the Montgomery bus boycott left the city after a sunrise prayer service on 16 May. The Montgomery Advertiser estimated that two hundred people traveled from Montgomery to Washington, D.C. (MIA, List of persons going to Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, 17 May 1957; Jo Ann Flirt, “200 Local Negroes Join March on Washington,” Montgomery Advertiser, 17 May 1957).
3.In the letter to which King refers, United Automobile Workers president Reuther asserted: “Never has there been a period in the history of our nation when the need has been greater for the preservation and extension of our Civil Rights and Civil Liberties to every American.” He further urged that local unions send “small interracial delegations” to the march (Reuther to International union officers et al., 25 April 1957). Among the other unions represented at the Pilgrimage was the International Longshoremen’s Association, whose president Fred R. Field wrote King that the event was an inspiration to the union members and added: “The International Longshoremen’s Association as you probably know is the most powerful labor organization in the South and in a large measure this is due to the splendid support it has received from the Negro longshoremen” (Field to King, 23 May 1957).
MLKP-MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Boston University, Boston, Mass.