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From Hermine I. Popper

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Author: Popper, Hermine I. 

Date: March 21, 1958

Location: White Plains, N.Y. 

Genre: Letter

Topic: Martin Luther King, Jr. - Political and Social Views


In late February Popper, a freelance editor affiliated with Harper & Brothers, began assisting King with the manuscript that would become Stride Toward Freedom.1 In the letter below she explains her efforts on behalf of the press, “to convert, as it were, an expert orator’s style into a writer’s style.”

Dr. Martin Luther King
309 South Jackson Street
Montgomery, Alabama

Dear Dr. King:

I write at Marie Rodell’s suggestion to explain what she would have explained if she had delivered your manuscript in person. With both Marie and the airmails grounded, I can only hope that our suggested revisions and this letter will both reach you before you leave for New York.2

As you will see, we are sending you both your original draft and a corrected version retyped for easier reading. Attached to each revised chapter is a page of lettered notes and suggestions, keyed to letters in the margins of the text. We arranged the manuscript in this fashion so that you would have a chance to read it through without interruption. Our effort throughout has been to simplify, to sharpen, to pare away—to convert, as it were, an expert orator’s style into a writer’s style—so that your truly great story will speak for itself. I have added less than a dozen sentences throughout the text, and in each case have noted the addition for your approval. I have, however, in many places asked you for additional materials, specific facts or scenes that will make the story more vivid.

The original first chapter has been divided into two and considerably reorganized. Not only has this introductory section had the most revision on our part, but it still demands the most work on yours. It is probably the most difficult job in the book since it must fill in so many backgrounds—yours; Montgomery’s, both Negro and white; and the bus situation itself. The frame{work} is there but it now needs to be filled in.3 From Chapter III on, your story progresses impressively, and we have made no major changes; moreover, the additions we suggest in the latter chapters should not be difficult to provide.4 Incidentally, your original chapters VI and IX are not included—their revision awaits the intermediate chapters.

May I ask you to read the new version through first, for its overall effect, and without reference to the old? If, after finishing it, you are still puzzled about some changes, my notes in the margin of the original script may help to clarify.

If there were space, there are many other things I would like to say about my pleasure in having a share in this enterprise. I am glad that I will have a chance to meet you next week, and perhaps tell you some of them.5

[signed]Hermine Popper
Hermine I. Popper

1. In a 26 February letter to King, Eugene Exman of Harper & Brothers explained: “Mrs. Popper is the woman I spoke of when I saw you three weeks ago—an extremely competent editorial person. . . . She will not be working as a ghostwriter, but as an editorial associate.” Hermine Rich Isaacs Popper (1915-1968), born in New York City, received a B.A. (1936) from Radcliffe College. From 1938 to 1947, she worked as a managing editor and film critic of Theater Arts Magazine. Popper worked for Harper & Brothers from 1953 to 1956, leaving to focus on freelance book editing. Her affiliation with King began with Stride Toward Freedom, and she provided editorial assistance on several of King’s later publications, including Why We Can’t Wait(1963) and Where Do We Go From Here (1967).

2. On 13 March Rodell informed King that “the fact that the first draft is still not completed is most disquieting to all of us,” and asked to meet with him in Montgomery on 22 March. However, a winter storm grounded air traffic out of New York City on 21 March, forcing the cancellation of Rodell’s Montgomery visit.

3. King’s original first chapter concerned his decision to accept the call to Dexter, long-time Montgomery activists E. D. Nixon and Vernon Johns, and the living conditions of Montgomery’s black citizens under segregation. Portions of it formed the first two chapters in the final version, “Return to the South” and “Montgomery Before the Protest.”

4. King’s original chapter three, “The Day of Days, December 5,” which dealt with the first day of the boycott, the creation of the MIA, and the conviction of Rosa Parks, appeared as the fourth chapter of the published version.

5. On 8 April Popper thanked King for her “pleasant and rewarding” visit to Montgomery.

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

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