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To John Malcolm Patterson

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Author: King, Martin Luther, Jr. (Southern Christian Leadership Conference)

Date: August 9, 1960

Location: Atlanta, Ga.?

Genre: Letter

Topic: Brown v. Board of Education

Student movements


King writes Alabama's governor, expressing “astonishment” that Alabama State College president H. Councill Trenholm had pledged to suppress student and faculty activism. Governor Patterson had earlier threatened to fire Trenholm if he proved unable to maintain order on campus.1 At King’s request, Maude Ballou forwarded a copy of this telegram to Trenholm.2

governor john patterson

we have learned with astonishment of the pledge that you extracted from president h c trenholm of alabama state college that the students of that college would not participate in any more anti segregation demonstrations and that the faculty of that college would remain loyal to alabama segregation laws. you must know the president of this college does not possess the authority to pledge away the rights of the american citizens who happen to be attending or teaching at alabama state college. the american people repudiate this impossible pledge and denounce those who are responsible for it. students and faculty members not only have the right of peaceful assembly and protest but have the obligation to oppose the evil system of racial discrimination and segregation that has been condemned by both national political parties. we call upon you to release dr. trenholm from this humiliating pledge that you had him give at your state board of education meeting july 20th.

martin luther h king jr president
the southern christian leadership conference

1. Trenholm assured the Alabama State Board of Education that he would “redouble” efforts to prevent further demonstrations and that those remaining at Alabama State “will do so because of proper conduct.” He also submitted a report detailing the changes at the college since the protest began as well as the precautions taken to prevent a reoccurrence. A news report indicated that Patterson “was satisfied with the work Trenholm has done” (“Bridle on Outbreaks Pledged by Trenholm,” Montgomery Advertiser, 21 July 1960; see also King to Patrick Murphy Malin, Roy Wilkins, and Carl J. Megel, 16 June 1960, pp. 471-472 in this volume). In an October article in Ebony, King said that the student sit-ins would force college presidents “to make a choice between expediency and a course of action based on principle and morality.” He further asserted “that there is no painless way to effect social change” and maintained that “every president must realize that he, too, is involved in this great struggle and that in the process he may lose his job” (Lerone Bennett, Jr., “The Plight of Negro College Presidents,” Ebony,October 1960, p. 144).

2. Ballou to Trenholm, 9 August 1960. King also sent copies to Randolph and Wilkins explaining that he had “felt compelled to get some word to the Governor which would indirectly condemn Mr. Trenhom for taking such a cowardly position” and asking that they send similar messages to Patterson (King to Wilkins and King to Randolph, both dated 9 August 1960). Wilkins had previously wired Patterson on 17 June, conveying his dismay at the governor's handling of the Alabama State situation. Randolph wrote Patterson on 15 August.

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

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