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To James P. Coleman

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Author: King, Martin Luther, Jr.

Date: June 7, 1958

Location: Atlanta, Ga.

Genre: Letter

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


In a 22 May letter, history professor Clennon King asked King to support his effort to enroll in graduate school at the University of Mississippi: “Every hypocritical ruse is being used to keep my application from being recognized solely because of my black African background.”1 Nine days later, after meeting King at the SCLC meeting in Clarksdale, Clennon King wrote to inquire why he had received no reply. After Clennon King was sent to a state mental facility following his attempt to register for classes at the university, King writes this letter of protest to Mississippi’s governor.2

Governor J. P. Coleman 
State Capitol
Jackson, Mississippi

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference wishes to voice the strongest possible protest against the inhumane and unchristian treatment to which Professor Clennon King has been subjected as a result of his attempt to enroll at the University of Mississippi Thursday, June 5.

News headlines that Professor King had been “hauled” bodily from a university building and put into the back of a station wagon were shocking enough; but even more disturbing are the latest reports that in a little more than twenty-four hours without the protection of legal counsel, he has been judged mentally, incompetent and confined to Whitefield State Mental Hospital.3

Such deliberate speed in depriving a man of his freedom is difficult to accept even under ordinary circumstances; but circumstances here are far from ordinary. Negro residents of Mississippi are still barred from the University of Mississippi and thus denied access to graduate study. When Professor King upheld segregation and attacked the U.S. Supreme Court in a series of newspaper articles a few months ago, his mental competence was not challenged by Mississippi but praised instead.4 Now that he seeks to further his education at the only available university in his state, the State responds by rushing him into a mental institution. The connection seems clear.

In light of this and especially Chancellor Stokes Robertson’s action in ejecting Professor King’s lawyer from the hearing, we shudder at the prospects of what might follow.5

Rev. Martin L. King, Jr, President
Southern Christian Leadership Conference
208 Auburn Avenue, N.E.
Atlanta, Georgia

1. Clennon King (1920-), born in Albany, Georgia, received a B.S. (1940) from Tuskegee Institute, a B.A. (1944) from Adelbert College, and an M.A. (1945) from Case Western University. Before becoming head of the history department at Alcorn A&M in 1956, King taught at several southern schools including Albany State University, Virginia Union University, and Lemoyne-Owen College.

2. This letter was also read at an 11 June protest rally in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, organized by SCLC executive board member W. H. Hall (Hall to Ella Baker, 10 June 1958; SCLC, Press release, 12 June 1958). Hospital officials later determined Clennon King to be sane, and he was released after a little over a week of confinement.

3. King refers to the Mississippi State Mental Hospital in Whitfield.

4. The articles, published in the Jackson State Times in early 1957, provoked a school boycott by more than five hundred Alcorn A&M students, who demanded Professor King’s firing. King left his teaching post and the college president, who supported the students, was fired by the state college board (“Rally for Expelled Alcorn Students,” Tri-State Defender, 23 March 1957).

5. Stokes V Robertson, Jr. served as chancellor of Mississippi’s Fifth Chancery Court District (1955 - 1966).

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

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