Chaos reigned on the floor of the 4 September meeting of the National Baptist Convention after the organization's president, J. H. Jackson, declared he would not abide by an amendment limiting presidential tenure. Waving large photos of their candidate, Jackson supporters at the Louisville meeting voted him by acclamation to a fifth one-year term. Opponents, including King and Barbour, believed that Jackson had orchestrated the unannounced voice vote, and Jackson’s more outspoken adversaries gathered at a local church to plot a legal challenge to the election. During the next four days of the convention, the dispute devolved several times into shouting matches and fist fights; one brawl was controlled only after the Louisville police arrested four delegates, three of whom were ministers.1 Four weeks later Barbour writes King about the meeting and briefs his friend with news from Crozer.
1. Do you still believe that you can change a social system with out [strikeout illegible] violence?
2. What you saw at Louisville
m is the NATURE OF MAN not just the action of a few THUGS. Nature is raw and will resort to any tactics when Personal interest is involved.
3. Jim Nabrit moves mighty slow but he is a Lawyer and not a preacher. . . . the hardest part of a battle is TO WAIT! 2
4. If we lose in COURT, I am going to try your “Passive Resistance” Tactic by organizing an economic boycot. But Preachers and Convention delegates are a PECULIAR BREED OF HUMANS and I doubt if they will respond as LAYMEN. The SOUTHERN BAPTIST PREACHER was never with you. . the Laymen inTIMADTED THEM and you draged them along!
5. Have you seen Geo. Davis New Book? Its a “Killer” on “Existentialism”. 3
6. I am puting it all out that JACKSON has killed the VOICE and making myself a Martyr. 4 Then I will come back as “Gang-busters” with a “BAPTIST NEWS LETTER”. The day of Religious Journals is past, so the Public relations experts tell me. NEWS LETTERS have the day. Unless a Religious Journal
l is heavily subsidized it cant make it.
7. I am going to the GENTILES;; . . . The AMERICAN BAPTIST for my inspiration.
8. I am sorry you would not take my advice and get SET in a GREAT BIG POSITION before “the shouting andTumult die”.5 Of course if you lead the SOUTHERN CAMPAIGN for REGISTRATION things will pick up. Stay away from Adam [Clayton] Powell and his demogogery!
9. No difference between Jackson and [Orval] Faubus when it comes to ETHICS. No Difference between the Thugs of the NBC and that Mob at Little Rock either. Louisville was really a revelation of the Low status of the Average Baptist preacher. It was really those “Concubines” in the Convention that carried the day for Jackson. Those women were nearly forty per cent ofhis vote
s. What are we going to do about these women who hand around minsters conferences and preachers a ll the time? The next time you go to a convention you watch how MANY WOMEN HANG AROUND the men’s convention and wont go to the women’s convention.
10. Crozer lacks INTELLECTUAL BRILLIANTCY. . . no great scholars except [Raymond] Bean and Geo. Davis. Some say [Kenneth] Smith is keen, but I dont know Him. Rodgers and [Harold] Carter are all right, the rest of the Spooks nothing but Morons.6
I took up $4,012.65 Sunday at Men’s day and stired things on a sermon entitled: “Dirt-Men; Meat-men; Spirit men” . . . Naturalism, existentialism and Theism. I chewed it up for the laity and carried things by storm. The Sermon had two parts: (1) Dust thou art and to dust thou will retirn . . I enlarged on The Natural idea of Man and then asked the question: How does “Dirt” man act? Then gave the good timers hell. Under “Meat” I discussed the Marxist idea: “Man is what he eats” . . Materialism. Then I went into Existentialism and then I gave the Bourgoisie hell especially the Negro Bourgoisie and their Ranch homes and installment strains. I closed out: “Man made in the image of God.” It was awful and the greatest Men’s day sermon preached since PAUL failed on Mar’s Hill. I pass it on to you because with your philosophic mind and many invitations for Men’s day you need s some New Ideas. You should have seen the people when I said: “Dirt-Men: Meat-men; Spirit-men.”
I start on the last lap of my building programme this MONTH. Why dont you come up to the THEOLOGICAL CONFERENCE AT CROZER In November? Nels Ferre will be the “big-shot”.7
If you and Coretta dont stop having babies you will ruin yourself. I will send you some Birth control Literature.
[signed] J. Pius Barbour
1. For coverage of the convention, see Ora Spaid, “National Baptists Re-Elect Leader,” Louisville Courier-Journal, 5 September 1957, and Louis Lautier, “Baptists,” Baltimore Afro-American, 10 September 1957. Commenting to a reporter during the convention, King denounced the violence that had occurred: “We as ministers of the gospel have the responsibility of heeding and living what we preach. The physical violence that has occurred at this gathering is regrettable. It is something we need to improve and repent for. However, I don’t think these violent actions represent the intentions, hopes, and noble purposes of the convention. And I have friends on both sides. I do think the philosophy of passive resistance could very definitely have been applied here, rather than what occurred” (Alan Lev, “Bus-Boycott Leader Surprisingly Young,” Louisville Courier-Journal, 7 September 1957; for further discussion of King’s involvement with the National Baptist Convention, see Introduction, pp. 17-18 in this volume).
2. Jackson’s opposition retained attorney James M. Nabrit, Jr. to mount a legal challenge to the National Baptist Convention election.
3. George W. Davis, Existentialism and Theology (New York Philosophical Library, 1957). King later received an inscribed copy from Davis (see King to Davis, 8 November 1958, pp. 528-529 in this volume).
4. During the convention Barbour was replaced as the editor of the Baptist Voice, the official organ of the National Baptist Convention.
5. In 1955 Barbour had advised King against remaining in Montgomery: “I warn you. Dont get stuck there. Move on to a big metropolitan center in THE NORTH, or some town as ATLANTA. You will dry rot there” (see Papers 2: 565).
6. Barbour refers to Crozer student and King’s former assistant at Dexter, T. Y. Rogers.
7. Ferre was an author, theologian, and Congregational minister.
DABCC-INP, Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church Collection, In Private Hands