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From Glenn E. Smiley

Author: 
Smiley, Glenn E. (Fellowship of Reconciliation)
Date: 
April 13, 1956
Location: 
New York, N.Y.
Genre: 
Letter
Topic: 
Montgomery Bus Boycott

Details

Unable to meet with King during a five-day visit to Montgomery, Smiley writes of his efforts to promote reconciliation among white and black clergy. He describes a successful 6 April meeting of seventy white ministers from all over Alabama who agreed to meet again to release a public statement encouraging a “liberal approach” to racial conflict. The meeting, he writes, “could very easily be the most significant thing I have done, in that it stands a good chance of being the beginning of a rebuilt ‘middle ground’ in Alabama.’’ Smiley also mentions his conversations with Rev. Thomas Thrasher and Rev. Ralph Abernathy exploring the possibility of interracial prayer meetings in Montgomery.1

Dr. Martin Luther King
309 S. Jackson
Montgomery, Ala.

Dear Martin:

We are sorry to hve missed you while we were in Montgomery and I am especially sorry that our secretary from Los Angeles did not have the privilege of a conversation with you, as it would have enhanced his usefulness in securing support on the west coast.2 We did do a good deal of thinking on the problem and did hold the meeting of ministers of which I spoke. Seventy ministers from all over the state and the northern tip of Florida attended the meeting at the YMCA camp near Montgomery, and discussed all day from 10:00 a.m. to 4,00 p.m. what could be done. Everyone was surprised at the turnout, as it was by invitation rather than by publicity, and strictly on the basis of a liberal approach to the problems in the state. I feel that this could very easily be the most significant thing I have done, in that it stands a good chance of being the beginning of a rebuilt “middle ground” in Alabama. The ministers agreed that although they had met with the promise of no publicity and no statements, that they would meet again sometime during the first two weeks of May in a publicized meeting and would make a statement then. This latter part should be held confidentially until they have had the opportunity to make the first move, but I believe that it will occur. There was a good deal of talk about reestablishing communications between the groups in the south, and a good deal of feeling of guilt and repentance that they had done so little and had allowed the church to be pushed about so much.

I also talked with Thrasher and some others about the possibility of establishing some prayer groups between a few of you in Montgomery and I hope that I was not too far wrong when I intimated to them that I felt you would be interested in getting together regularly with some members of the white ministerial group to pray for illumination and guidance in the problems that face the Christian church in the south. I mentioned this to Ralph and he thought it probably was a good idea.

I also mentioned to Ralph the fact that we are now preparing a 15-minute documentary film on nonviolence in the race question, about 7 minutes of it dealing with the Montgomery situation and the rest of it being devoted to experiences in South Africa and India, and the growing unrest of the world. If it turns out as good as we think it will—and it should be ready in about three weeks to a month from now—I was wondering if there is a possibility that we might show it first for one of the mass meetings in Montgomery.3 This is just a suggestion and would certainly appreciate your reaction to it. I suspect that we could arrange it from our end, although I have not talked with the man who is doing the picture. Also Wilson Riles and I were discussing the matter the other night, and wondered if there would not be some value in a boycott, if you would want to call it that, of the humiliating experience you suffer, in that the local Advertiser has a Negro sheet which is not sent to the white community and therefore it does nothing to forward the communication between the two groups, except to spread the poison of the rascists among the Negro people. {What a sentence!} We were wondering if there is any value in casually suggesting that there is really no service to the Negro people, and further suggesting to some private capital that a sheet, or even a daily paper in Montgomery for Negro people might really serve the community more adequately than the Advertiser can do. Just to continue with our thinking, we thought that there might be a possibility that the Atlanta Daily World might issue a Montgomery daily edition, or that they would publish a daily sheet for you and airmail it to Montgomery for distribution. It does seem that Negro people are paying for being discriminated against in the Advertiser paper. I am not sure that this would serve as much pressure on the white community, although it would undoubtedly affect the advertising rates of the Advertiser, itself. Another possibility might be to have the paper printed at the Negro publishing house in Birmingham. Anyway, it is an idea presented for your consideration, and shall leave it with you.

Blessings upon you, and our prayers continue to be with you.

Sincerely,
[signed] Glenn
Glenn E. Smiley
National Field Sec.
cc to Ralph Abernathy

GES/hs

1. For more on Thrasher’s pleas for dialogue, see Thrasher, “Alabama’s Bus Boycott,” Reporter, 8 March 1956 (also excerpted in the Montgomery Advertiser as “Fear, the Only Common Bond” on 3 March 1956).

2. Wilson Riles, FOR’s southwest regional secretary, accompanied Smiley in Montgomery.

3. Walk to Freedom, produced by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, was first shown at an MIA mass meeting on 1 October 1956. See Robert L. Cannon to Alfred Hassler and Glenn E. Smiley, 3 October 1956, pp. 388-391 in this volume.

Source: 

MLKP-MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University, Boston, Mass.