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From J. Pius Barbour

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Author: Barbour, J. Pius (National Baptist Voice) 

Date: December 21, 1954

Location: Chester, Pa. 

Genre: Letter

Topic: Martin Luther King, Jr. - Career in Ministry


Barbour was editor of the National Baptist Voice and pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Chester, Pennsylvania, the home of Crozer Theological Seminary. After King’s installation as pastor at Dexter he wrote Barbour, enclosing the installation program, which included photographs of the Kings.

Dear Mike:

Let me congratulate you on those Photos: yours flatter you and Coretta’s does not quite give her justice. However this is typical of what her life will be with you: you will always manage to keep her in second place by hook or crook. If you can do that in the field of beauty the rest will be easy. McCall wrote me about the Old Man’s sermon, and what good he thought it did.1 After all a Man who can build a Church like Ebenezer andrpor and produce young “Mike” is no fool. The trouble with you fellows from Universities is: you think that there is only one type in the World . . the Socratic. But history records Attl Attilla the Hun as well as Jesus; Stalin as well as Paul. And by the way I never heard of Attilla drinking the Hemlock or Stalin going to the cross. Dont believe that mess about the Pen is mightier than the sword. Give me the Sword!

I am stiring up a rucus in two fields: (1) My new Church is half way up. I am just doing it because you and McCall said I did nothing but sit on my fat fanny and read. I want to {show} you Simon Magus’s that I could out do the most materialistic preacher if I wanted to. Now at sixty I am spending $123,000.00 and PAYING AS I GO. The First Unit will be ready when you come up out of the subway for air this summer on your way to Boston or Phila. or some other Civilized place. Second: I have put out the doctrine that the Age of the SPIRIT has closed. You will see it in the VOICE. I am going to Baltimore this Spring to lecture to the Ministers on it and will do the same at Louisville, Ky. on the Fourth Sunday in Jan. I just came back from PittbbrgO Pittsburg where I preached Men’s day. I dont know what was the matter with me. Only twenty people shouted; six joined the Church and {they} gave me a collection of Two hundred dollars. I could not get myself together and I guess that accounts for the results faoll falling so far below the average {for} my presence.

Crozer is in a Mess. The boys say Bristol is just a Sunday School expounder. No man in “O.T.” yet. Cant find a Ph.D. in that field. That Aramaic and Syriac beat the boys down and they wont tackle the field. Enslin has no job yet. I will see him at “The Society of Biblical Lit. and Exegesis,” a group of Savants, which meets in New York on the 28th. Proctor and I and a few other spooks are members. Do you know Greek or Hebrew? If so I will get you in. If you dont, then I cant reccomend an ignoramus. Littlejohn is doing nothing but sitting on his fat fanny expecting me to get him a Church like Concord. Like McCall, he thinks he can preach much better than he can. Proctor took him to his church in Providence but things have not worked out yet.2 That is the Church for you and not down in those sticks. You need not tell me about Dexter; I know Montgomery and its superficial intellectuality. A plant-hand in the North has more WORLD WISDOM than a college Pres. in the SOUTH. Thats why Bennie Mays column in the Courier sounds like nothing.3 Something wrong with SOUTHERN INTELLECUALITY. I know what it is: it does not have the atmosphere thats that breeds profundity.… all abstraction. My young people attacked me Sunday in the BTU you on the ground that preachers are always talking about Salvation and it means nothing in this day and time. No souhtern youths would raise such a question. The Purpose of all this is to keep you andp and Coretta from “letting that Triple Attendance and Triple collection” lull you to sleep down there. Son, hard liberty is to be prefered to servile pomp!

The Preachers of Phila. just laid $31,000.00 in cash on the table for the Xmas drive for Africa. The Mau Mau trouble stimulate them. Ask Johnson and Cleveland about the Mau Mau.4

I murdered them Sunday on this question. The wise men asked: Where is he that is born King of The Jews? Why did they not ask for a SAVIOR? Luke called him a Saviour and Math. a “King.” WHY? Becauae Luke was interested in ECONOMICS and Math. in Legislation. Therefore these preachers who try to make Christianity STRICLY a religion of the Poor are all wet. There have taken a PARTICULAR viewpoint and tried to make it a UNIVERSAL. This was Nietzsche’s trouble. This is the trouble with those who claim that the Church is recreant to its task. They really are backing Ouke Luke, a particular. SALVATION IS FOR ALL {—a universal}, not just a group. That was my subject; SALVATION FOR ALL. For unto you is born a Saviour, was the text. Then the Question. WHAT YOU? Dr., It was awful! Then with that Thesis I roamed over the world starting as I always do with the international, then National, then Individual. From what young man to do you wished to be saved? Frustrated Ambition? Broe Human weakness? I went to town on Human weakness as I had just finished BULTMAN’S BOOK.5

Well it is seven oclock in the morning and that is why I am writing such a long letter. I hide out during holidays as Nigger mess about festivities worry me. I have been in the bed so much until I cant sleep as all I do is lie in bed and read while you are trying to save the world. I have only looked at the New work going on {at my church} once in a month. I dont want to get enraptured with the Temple. I have put a gallery in the Church and I am sorry as I see now that I have not got as many people in the Church as I thought. IT WAS EMPTY SUNDAY! Took out ten seats to make room for the gallery and then had PLENTY ROOM FOR THE CROWD. How we preachers deceive ourselves! Get BULTMAN’S “Theology of the New Testament” and digest it. Learn how to stir up the spooks on the end. Never mind Dexter. Stir up the spooks so you wont get in a pocket. You may have to try for a Mass Church some day. Love to Coretta. Dont invite me down because Montgomery always reminds me of my failure.6

[signed] J Pius Barbour

(1) young arthur younger, coatsville, got mcniels church at dayton {ohio}—a church like dexter.
(2) gardner taylor raised $40,000.00 in cash in a rally.7
dont be a hypocrite. put your name and degrees on your stationary. i did it and increased my income $3,000 a year!

1. Walter R. McCall had written Barbour about King, Sr.’s sermon at the installation.

2. Barbour’s son, Worth Littlejohn Barbour, asked King in October 1950 for a letter of recommendation in support of his application to Crozer. He graduated from Crozer in 1954, six months before J. Pius Barbour wrote this letter. Barbour mentions that Samuel D. Proctor took McCall to Pond Street Baptist Church in Providence, Rhode Island, where Proctor was pastor from 1945 to 1949. In an April 1956 letter, Littlejohn mentioned to King that both he and Walter McCall were candidates for a church in Rochester. He wrote, “I hope it’s his call; for Mc really wants to be a pastor and I think he would fit in that church very nicely” (Worth Littlejohn Barbour to King, 2 April 1956, MLKP-MBU). See Charles E. Batten to King, 11 October 1950, in Papers 1:332; and King to Charles E. Batten, 30 October 1950, in Papers 1:333.

3. Benjamin E. Mays wrote a weekly column for the Pittsburgh Courier.

4. Barbour refers to H. H. Johnson and M. C. Cleveland, two Montgomery ministers.

5. Barbour refers to Rudolf Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament (New York: Scribner, 1951). A second volume of this work was published in 1955. Bultmann was a “special lecturer” at Crozer during the 1952–1953 school year.

6. Barbour was pastor of Montgomery’s Day Street Baptist Church from 1921 to 1931. M. C. Cleveland followed Barbour as pastor of the church in 1933. Despite Barbour’s warning, King extended an invitation to Barbour to lecture at Dexter’s Spring Lecture Series for a week in April 1956. Barbour accepted and gave a sermon and three lectures on 15–17 April 1956. See Barbour, “Religion in Montgomery, Alabama,” National Baptist Voice, May 1956; J. Pius Barbour to King, 21 July 1955, pp. 564–566 in this volume; and King to J. Pius Barbour, 13 March 1956, DABCC.

7. Gardner Taylor was pastor of Concord Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York.

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

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