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From John Lee Tilley

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Author: Tilley, John Lee

Date: June 26, 1958

Location: Atlanta, Ga.

Genre: Letter

Topic: Voter registration


On 24 June, SCLC’s newly appointed executive director Tilley wrote Ella Baker in New York City and requested her suggestions for an upcoming administrative committee meeting.1 Two days later Tilley sent this letter to King and enclosed drafts of several documents intended to advance the work of the Crusade for Citizenship.

Dr. M. L. King, Jr.
Montgomery, Alabama
309 S. Jackson Street

Dear Dr. King:

First I wish to congratulate you for having succeeded at arranging the conference with President Eisenhower and for sharing in what I think might well be called a summit conference. Definitely a forward step has been made in bringing to the President’s attention some of the problems with which we are confronted and I am sure with some suggestions for approaching them.

Do you wish us to send notices to the members of the Board of Directors for the meeting to be held next week? If so, what day, hour, and place will the meeting be held. I should be glad to get the notices out if you so advise.2

A large number of church conventions, conferences, such meetings are being held during this season of the year. It seems that this would provide a splendid opportunity for us to ask them to adopt a set of resolutions which might stimulate interest in the rural communities as well as cities in getting the people interested in registering and voting. I have therefore prepared a letter and resolutions which I thought we might send to presidents of these organizations asking them to have the resolutions adopted in the meeting.

Enclosed I am sending a copy of the letter to the presiding officer and suggested resolutions.3 Please check these critically and give me your reaction. One Sunday School and BTU convention is being held this week, June 26-27 near Merietta, Georgia. I called you today to get your reaction regarding this but found you were out of the city.

I am compiling the names of conventions, conferences, etc. and dates and places of meetings, names and addresses of presiding officers so that I can communicate with them relatively to the suggested resolutions if you approve the idea. I am also compiling a mailing list of Pastors, lay religious workers and leaders of educational, civic, religious, fraternal, and professional organizations.

Enclosed I am sending a list of areas of activity which I have outlined to be considered in the Crusade for Citizenship.4 Please check these, note additional ones and make suggestions relative to any revisions which should be made.

Please make suggestions relative to anything which I might do preparatory to the meeting to be held next week.

Respectfully yours,
John L. Tilley
Executive Director

Enclosures 2

1. Baker had returned to her New York home to “make the necessary adjustments” for an extended stay in Atlanta. Though she was initially hired to organize the Crusade, Baker decided to remain in Atlanta to assist Tilley: “People don’t develop certain information or certain organizing capacities out of the blue. So, I stayed as a supporter of his efforts” (Baker, Interview by John Britton, 19 June 1968; Baker, Form letter to members, 12 June 1958). John Lee Tilley (1898-1971), born in Stem, North Carolina, received his A.B. (1925) from Shaw University and his Ph.B. (1927) from the University of Chicago. Tilley later received his M.A. (1933) at the University of Chicago and his D.D. (1933) from Shaw before being named the first dean of Shaw’s School of Religion. In 1944 Tilley became president of Florida Normal and Industrial College in St. Augustine, a position he held until 1951 when he was named pastor of Baltimore’s New Metropolitan Baptist Church. Before his appointment to serve as SCLC’s executive director, he chaired both the NAACP Register and Vote campaign and the Baltimore NAACP’s labor committee in 1957.

2. King had earlier sent notice of the 2 July administrative committee meeting (see King to Abernathy, 16 June 1958).

3. Tilley’s proposed resolutions included suggestions for boosting voter registration through the organization of voting clinics and door-to-door campaigns. His draft letter urged pastors and community leaders to “adopt the enclosed set of resolutions or some that are similar,” and he asked that the organizations report on their efforts: “Please write me informing me of your success and suggesting any help which we can give you” (Tilley, Suggested resolutions for religious, educational, civic, fraternal, and professional bodies to be adopted; and Tilley, Form letter to presidents of conventions, conferences, etc., both dated 26 June 1958).

4. The seven-point list included such items as “conduct voting clinics” and “collect data and present cases of discrimination on registration to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission” (Tilley, Areas of activity in Crusade for Citizenship, 26 June 1958).

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

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