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To John Malcolm Patterson

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Author: King, Martin Luther, Jr. (Southern Christian Leadership Conference); Abernathy, Ralph (Montgomery Improvement Association); Seay, S. S. (Solomon Snowden) (Montgomery Improvement Association)

Date: May 28, 1959

Location: Montgomery, Ala.

Genre: Letter

Topic: Montgomery Bus Boycott


In the following Ietter to the governor of Alabama, King and other MIA leaders protest the recent racist beatings of three Montgomery men and the suspicious disappearance of MIA member Horace G. Bell at a newly opened public lake in Selma.1 An accompanying report detailed the incidents.2

Honorable John Patterson, Governor
State of Alabama
State Capitol
Montgomery, Alabama

Dear Governor Patterson:

The attached document relates several tragic incidents which have occurred in the State of Alabama within recent days. These unfortunate acts of violence which have been inflicted upon several Negroes of Montgomery are so shameful that we feel the need of calling them to your immediate attention. The mob which attacked these persons in Dallas County should be apprehended and brought before the bar of justice and the whereabouts of Mr. Horace G. Bell revealed. To allow these incidents to go without public cognizance of them will encourage greater and more frequent acts of violence by these irresponsible persons.

The disappearance of Mr. Bell is a great shock to Montgomery. The failure to act now will deny all our claims for law and order and make meaningless our profession of Christian principles.

It is to you that we look for protection and your failure to respond in this instance would give encouragement to those who seek to take the law into their own hands and administer it according to their own brand of justice. The state of Alabama has the power and the laws on the statue books to remedy these injustices. As law abiding citizens who are interested in the good name of the State of Alabama, we urge you to order the necessary investigation and bring to justice those who are guilty of these acts of violence. We also urge you to use every resource at your disposal to locate Mr. Horace G. Bell, whose strange disappearance, has caused many to suspect foul play. The location of this man will either confirm or dispel this suspicion.

We sincerely hope that you will immediately take a strong stand on these pressing issues. We also urge you to publicly declare the policies of the state regarding the use of the lake. Your forthright action at this point will help to assure the safety of all citizens in the enjoyment of the resources of this state.

Very sincerely yours,
Martin Luther King, President
Southern Christian Leadership Conference

Ralph D. Abernathy, Chairman of the
Board of Directors, Montgomery Improvement Association

S. S. Seay, Sr., Executive Secretary
Montgomery Improvement Association, Inc.

enclosure: 1

1. King also sent a telegram to Attorney General William P. Rogers demanding an investigation of the assaults and warning that "if the Federal Government fails to take a forthright stand against these evils our Southland is in danger of drifting into a Hitler like fanaticism which will bring our whole nation to shame" (King, Abernathy, and S. S. Seay to Rogers, 28 May 1959). Replying on behalf of Rogers, Assistant Attorney General W. Wilson White suggested that King present evidence of any violations of federal law to local FBI officials (White to King, 29 May 1959; see also Memos to J. Edgar Hoover, 28 May and 8 July 1959).

2. According to the report, on 24 May, a white mob at the lake forced Quintus Hooten from his car, beat him severely, and ordered him to leave the county. E. L. Carl and Johnny Foster were similarly attacked the same day. Bell had disappeared the previous day and was found dead on 29 May of an apparent drowning ("Facts relating to recent violence inflicted upon Negro citizens of Montgomery, Ala.," 28 May 1959; see also "Patterson Asks Record School Budget, Also Closing Authority," Southern School News,June 1959).

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

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