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From John Steinbeck

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Author: Steinbeck, John

Date: September 23, 1958

Location: New York, N.Y.

Genre: Letter

Topic: Martin Luther King, Jr. - Threats/attacks against


My dear Reverend King:

The knowledge that you are flooded with messages does not decrease my wish to add a few drops to the torrent.

When the news came of your accident, and it was an accident, as you were the first to point out, I found myself bewildered and angry. Your service to negros is obvious, but I and many others know your importance to white people. Having erred in ethics and morals as well as in judgement, we react as my little boys sometimes do when they are being “bad” After a mistake they set their chins and search for another to justify the first. You have showed the good, but more important, the practical way—in fact the only possible way.

After my first confused anger, I knew as you must have known from the first, that history sometimes uses strange instruments, in this case a sad and troubled woman. But who could have for seen that the savagery of the Cross as a deterrent to civil unrest would become the symbol of love and a flag of truce in a world of hatred.

Your accident provides a climate for evaluation and reevaluation I am sorry for your pain but very sure that you accept it as a part of the pattern without which no human step toward dignity and understanding is ever taken.

You are very valuable to our whole perplexed and anxious species. Get well quickly. We need you, for you too are an accident—one of those fortunate accidents that have permitted us to survive our stupidities and our blundering.

Yours gratefully,
[signed] John Steinbeck1

1. In his 21 October 1958 reply to Steinbeck, King acknowledged that Steinbeck's “genuine concern and moral support come as a great lift to me and are of inestimable value in giving me the strength and courage to face the ordeal of this trying period.” John Steinbeck (1902-1968) was born in Salinas, California and attended Stanford University from 1919 until 1925. Steinbeck was awarded the 1940 Pulitzer Prize for his novel Grapes of Wrath (1939), and was honored with the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962 for his body of work, which included Of Mice and Men (1937), Their Blood Is Strong (1938), and East of Eden (1952).

Source: CSKC-INP, Coretta Scott King Collection, In Private Hands.

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