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To Johnnie H. Goodson

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

Date: August 29, 1960

Location: Atlanta, Ga.?

Genre: Letter

Topic: Nonviolence


King urges Jacksonville, Florida, NAACP president Johnnie H. Goodson to “adhere strictly to non violence” two days after violence erupted between local civil rights demonstrators and segregationists.1 In Goodson’s 2 September reply, he denounced violence as a means to achieve justice but affirmed “the right of individual and collective self-defense against unlawful assaults.”

john j goodson
pres jacksonville naacp
1505 west 15 st

am deeply sympathetic to stress and strain encountered in your struggle for human dignity. strongly urge that even in the face of severe or aggressive violence that you adhere strictly to non violence in every circumstance violence in our struggle, aggressive or retalitory is immoral and impracticable. as difficult as it may be total commitment to non violence in our struggle will alone suffice to redeem the soul of america. heed not the call to arms. plead earnestly with youth to put up their weapons even though our long years of oppression some times arouses an unconscious resentment within we must not succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter or of meeting violence with violence. there is no power on earth which can over come the majestic or grandeur evidenced in the challengeing willingness of a people to sacrifice and suffer for their rights. if i can be on any assistance in this moment of crisis even if it means making a personal visit to jacksonville please feel free to call on me2

martin luther king jr
southern christian leadership conference

1. On 27 August, in response to sit-in demonstrations in downtown Jacksonville, whites armed with “baseball bats, ax handles, and heavy walking sticks” attacked black citizens and protesters. The Klansmen chased the demonstrators into black neighborhoods, where local black youth gangs retaliated. During the riot, more than one hundred people were arrested and approximately sixty-five were injured. Following the violent weekend, the local NAACP youth chapter postponed sit-in demonstrations scheduled for 29 August (“Violence Flares in Jacksonville,” New York Times, 28 August 1960, and “Sit-Ins Halted in Jacksonville,” Atlanta Daily World, 30 August 1960). Johnnie Hamilton Goodson, Sr. (1914-1992) was born in Gadsden County, Florida. A veteran of World War II, Goodson taught tailoring at Walker’s Business College in Florida. A Prince Hall Free Mason, he was an active member of the Jacksonville NAACP and served briefly as the organization’s president in 1960.

2. Goodson also expressed appreciation for King’s offer of assistance but assured him that “we are fully able to meet what ever situation that may arise.” King’s assistant James Wood responded on his behalf and conveyed “hopes for an early restoration of relief from tension in your city” (Wood to Goodson, 23 September 1960).

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

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