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To James O. Grigsby

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Author: King, Martin Luther, Jr.

Date: August 7, 1959

Location: Montgomery, Ala.?

Genre: Letter

Topic: Martin Luther King, Jr. - Travels

Montgomery Bus Boycott


On 15 March Grigsby, a white Tennessean, asked King for advice on getting involved in the struggle for racial justice and wrote that "the South has been waiting a long time for a leader such as you!" 1 King replies that he has "longed for a white southerner to come into some predominantly Negro organization and work side by side with Negro leaders."

Mr. J. O. Grigsby
5951 Skyland Drive
Kingsport, Tenn.

Dear Mr. Grigsby:

I have just come across your letter of March 15. I regret very much that my reply is so late. When the letter came I was out of the country on a rather extended tour of India and the Middle East. On returning to the office my mail had accumulated to such a point that some letters were misplaced in the process. I think this happened in the case of your letter, and I just happened to have been looking back through some old folders and found it. Please accept my apologies for this misplacement.

First, I must express appreciation to you for reviewing my book. I am deeply moved by your encouraging words concerning it. Stride Toward Freedom is simply my humble attempt to bring Christian principles to bear on the [difficult?] problems of racial injustice which confronts our nation. I am happy to know that you found it helpful.2

It is deeply consoling to me to know of your interest in our struggle for freedom and human dignity. Such moral support and Christian generosity are of inestimable value in the continuance of our humble efforts. It is so seldom that you find a person of true dedication and real courage that when one comes along you are almost carried away with joy. I do not know exactly what to suggest to you in terms of your future helpfulness in the struggle. It might be good to find some organization that is working in the area of human rights and seek to express your ideas through this channel. While an individual witness is important and absolutely necessary, we know that it is possible to do more through organized efforts. I have always longed for a white southerner to come into some predominantly Negro organization and work side by side with Negro leaders. This would lift it above a mere racial struggle, and people would come to see that the tension is at bottom between justice and injustice rather than between Negro people and white people. This was one of the most inspiring things that I saw in India. When Mahatma Gandhi was involved in the independence struggle many of the British people joined his movement and worked side by side with him to throw off British imperialism. This made the struggle more than a struggle of Indian people against British people, but one of the forces of light against the forces of darkness. If you could find an organization in the South through which you could work, you would make a contribution that is desperately needed. I am the president of an organization known as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference which seeks to implement the Supreme Court's Desegregation Decision on the local level through nonviolent means. So far, we only have Negro participants in this organization, or I should say by and large Negro participation (there are a few white persons who have joined up with us). We would be happy to have you work with us and give your moral support wherever possible. Of course there are interracial organizations such as the Southern Regional Council with its affiliates in each state of the South. I am sure that you could make a valuable contribution in this organization. You may consider these suggestions, and I hope they will be of some help.

Again, thank you for your interest and concern. I hope it will be possible for us to meet personally in [the?] not-too-distant future. Enclosed is the very interesting material which you were gracious enough to send me.

Very sincerely yours,
Martin Luther King, Jr.


1. Grigsby added that he had been receiving MIA mailings since the days of the bus boycott: "Probably nowhere in the South or in the whole world, for that matter, was there another person watching the struggle with more intense interest than was I, nor prouder at the victorious outcome." James O. Grigsby (1917–) was born in Whitesburg, Tennessee, and served as a technical sergeant and pilot training instructor at Turner Field in Albany, Georgia, during World War II. He received a B.S. (1949) from the Georgia Institute of Technology. His opposition to racial injustice began during the war when he witnessed the beating of a black soldier by a white policeman; Grigsby later helped found a biracial community group under the auspices of the Unitarian Fellowship of Kingsport, Tennessee. He began working at Kingsport Press in 1949 and retired as a project engineer in 1970.

2. Grigsby mentioned in his letter that he had reviewed Stride Toward Freedom in March for a publication of the Holston Valley Unitarian Fellowship.

Source: MLKP-MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Boston University, Boston, Mass.

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