On 10 January Drake invited King to be the guest speaker at the annual Negro History Week observance in Tuscaloosa.1 In this letter to the high school teacher, King cancels his mid-February appearance, citing the “mounting tension” in Alabama. Two bombings had occurred in Montgomery just the week before, while students rioted at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa on 3—6 February to protest the registration of its first black student, Autherine Lucy.2
Mr. Fred Drake
Druid High School
Dear Mr. Drake:
I regret very deeply to say at this late date that I will have to cancel my speaking engagement with you. In the light of recent happenings my closest advisors have insisted that I cancel all speaking engagements in Alabama until the mounting tension dies down. I hope that this will not seriously interfere with your program. Please know that I desire to be with you very much, but my present position of leadership in Montgomery demands that I take all precaution possible. Give all of the people at Tuscaloosa my best regards, and give them the assurance that in our struggle for justice here in Montgomery we do not intend to retreat one inch.
With every good wish, I am
M. L. King, Jr.
1. Fred Drake (1914-1987), born in Greensboro, Alabama, earned his B.S. from Alabama State College and his M.Ed. from Wayne State University. An Alabama high school teacher from 1937 to 1976, Drake was active in local Baptist and community service organizations.
2. Autherine Lucy (1929-), raised near Shiloh, Alabama, graduated from Miles College in Fairfield, Alabama (1952). After Lucy unsuccessfully applied in 1955 to the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa for graduate studies, the NAACP appealed her case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ordered her enrollment. A student-led mob rocked the campus in early February and physically harassed Lucy as she attended classes. The university suspended her—for her safety, it claimed. Although the university was court-ordered to reinstate her, it expelled her on disciplinary grounds for making conspiracy accusations against school officials. The court that had ordered Lucy’s reinstatement later upheld the university’s action. Lucy ended her fight in April 1956, becoming a part-time English teacher in Shreveport, Louisiana.
DABCC-INP, Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church Collection, In Private Hands.