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To J. Pius Barbour

King, Martin Luther, Jr. (Dexter Avenue Baptist Church (Montgomery, Ala.))
March 13, 1956
Martin Luther King, Jr. - Career in Ministry
Montgomery Bus Boycott


Commenting that the bus boycott’s demands “have worked me overtime,” King confirms a guest appearance at Dexter for Barbour, editor of the National Baptist Voice. Barbour had drawn attention to his long-standing ties to King in a March article for the Voice: “King, Jr., practically lived in my home and preached at my Church very often while a student at Crozer.” Barbour recounted intense discussions with King over social issues: “I have heard Mike argue dearly all night about Gandhi and his methods against my thesis of coercion.” Despite his own skepticism about nonviolence, Barbour applauded King’s commitment. “I was thrilled when I read your remarks: ‘We must not fall so low as to allow our enemies to make us hate.’ I have heard you say that many a time. I thought you were just carrying on an intellectual argument. BUT YOU REALLY MEANT IT.” 1

Barbour was reluctant to accept King’s earlier invitations to preach at Dexter, remarking in a December 1954 letter to King that “Montgomery always reminds me of my failure,” a reference to Barbour’s troubled years as a young preacher in the city.2 Barbour responded to a 19 July 1955 invitation by musing, “I wonder if I am your man. I am distinctly a ‘preacher’s preacher’ and a college lecture man. I can preach ‘Mob-sermons’ but I cant lecture to mobs.” 3 In his 15 April sermon at Dexter—“Can You Change a Social Order Without Violence?”—Barbour contended that “the New Testament has no social strategy and the doctrine of non-resistance is strictly a personal ethic and has nothing to do with social strategy.” After the sermon, several listeners argued with Barbour, prompting him to write that, in all his decades of preaching, no church had surpassed Dexter “in intellectual alertness and keen insight.” 4

Dr. J. Pious Barbour
1614 West Second Street
Chester, Pennsylvania

Dear Dr. Barbour:

Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and the Montgomery Community are looking forward to your coming to us with great anticipation. As you know, the Spring Lectures Series begins April 15. We will expect you to preach that Sunday morning and the three lectures will be Sunday evening, Monday evening and Tuesday evening.

Please forward to me immediately a biographical sketch and at least two mats. I would also appreciate it if you would send your subjects and the suggestion of a general theme. All of this is very vital for publicity purposes. I intended writing for this information long before now, but the pressing demands of the bus situation have worked me overtime. Consequently, I have gotten behind in my correspondence. However, I would highly appreciate it if you would get this information to me within the next week.

I hope things are going well with you. Give my best regards to the family. Coretta and the baby are fine.

With every good wish, I am

Sincerely yours,
M. L. King, Jr.


1. J. Pius Barbour, “Meditations on Rev. M. L. King, Jr., of Montgomery, Ala.,” National Baptist Voice, March 1956. Barbour may refer to a King quotation in the New York Times on 24 February 1956: “Don’t ever let anyone pull you so low as to hate them” (see excerpt from Wayne Phillips, “Negroes Pledge to Keep Boycott,” 24 February 1956, pp. 135-136 in this volume).

2. Barbour to King, 21 December 1954, in Papers 2:324.

3. Barbour to King, 21 July 1955, in Papers 2:564.

4. Barbour, “Religion in Montgomery, Alabama,” National Baptist Voice, May 1956. When one listener asked Barbour about his distinction between social and personal interpretations of Scripture, Barbour acknowledged that he was “pinned against the wall when King came to my rescue by saying that any interpretation of Scripture that did violence to the known character of Jesus was to be avoided.”


DABCC-INP, Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church Collection, In Private Hands.