In a 16 October letter George M. Houser; executive director of the American Committee on Africa (ACOA), requested that King sign an enclosed form letter “to rally support for the new Africa Defense and Aid Fund.”1 King agreed and indicated that the appeal could be distributed without changes.2 After making slight modifications to the draft, the ACOA sent this letter to potential supporters.
I think I can say, as one well aware of the problems we still face in the United States, that the problems of Africa are of utmost importance in the world today. The people of Africa are struggling for independence and equal rights. There is no question that they will get them—but how? I am convinced that our future as well as theirs depends on what you and I do right now to make the transition peaceful and democratic.
In Central Africa at this moment there are over 600 Africans imprisoned, their families deprived of income.3 Their “crime” is that they are members of African organizations—legal at the time of their arrest—which seek greater political rights for the African majority, and an end to the color bar. The Nyasaland government (part of the Central African Federation), alleging a “massacre plot,” rounded up some 1300 Africans early this year and declared a state of emergency.4 The British government sent in an investigating commission which reported that not only was there no evidence of such a plot, but that under present conditions Nyasaland is a police state.
Urgent appeals have come to the American Committee on Africa to help the families of these Africans who are being held indefinitely and without specific charges. A responsible channel exists for us to give help. Through the South Africa Defense Fund, set up by the Committee three years ago when 156 opponents of apartheid were arrested, the American Committee of Africa sent $50,000 for aid in the extensive legal costs and family hardships of the accused.5 Now through the new Africa Defense and Aid Fund, the needs forced by the continuing trial in South Africa and the emergencies in Central Africa, as well as those described in the enclosed folder, can be met by one concerted effort.
The American Committee on Africa is the only organization in this country today which is actively trying to channel American aid in support of Africa’s struggle for greater democracy. If you and every one of the people to whom I am writing would respond with a check of at least $10, the American Committee on Africa could launch the Africa Defense and Aid Fund effectively and send immediate aid to those in need. Your support will help serve justice in Africa today, and build our friendship with Africans in the crucial period ahead. We need your help.6
[signed] Martin L. King Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
P.S. Because I am trying to reach many people with this letter, and it is very expensive to check lists for duplications, you may receive more than one. If so will you please forgive us and pass the additional letter on to a friend.
1. Draft, King to Friend, 16 October 1959. Earlier in the year King had served as an honorary chairman of the “Africa Freedom Day” event in New York sponsored by the American Committee on Africa on behalf of victims of racist violence in South Africa (ACOA, Program, “Africa Freedom Day,” 15 April 1959). George Mills Houser (1916-), born in Cleveland, Ohio, received a B.A. (1938) from the University of Denver and an M.Div. (1942) from Chicago Theological Seminary. In 1940 Houser was sentenced to one year in prison for draft resistance. He worked for the Fellowship of Reconciliation (1942-1955). In 1942 he co-founded the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), serving as its executive secretary (1945-1955). He helped organize the Journey of Reconciliation in 1947 to protest segregation on buses and trains in the South. Houser was also a co-founder of the American Committee on Africa and served as its executive director from 1955 until 1981.
2. King to Houser, October 1959. In a 9 November letter Houser thanked King for his “immediate response and willingness to sign the appeal letter.”
3. The draft of this letter referred to five hundred jailed Africans.
4. The draft reported that two thousand Africans had been arrested.
5. For King’s support of this earlier ACOA effort, see King to Chester Bowles, 8 November 1957, in Papers 4:311-314.
6. This sentence and the postscript were not included in the draft.
MLKP-MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Boston University, Boston, Mass.