On 6 August 1957 King addressed the National Beauty Culturist League's annual convention, "The Role of Beauticians in the Contemporary Struggle for Freedom," at which he received the organization's Civil Rights Award.1 Below, King declines League president Whickam's 24 June invitation to attend the beauticians' 1958 convention. Whickam was elected to SCLC's executive committee at the organization's 2 October 1958 meeting in Norfolk.2
Mrs. Katie E. Whickam, President
National Beauty Culturist League, Inc.
2100 Dryades Street
New Orleans, La.
Dear Mrs. Whickam:
On returning to the office, I found your letter of June 24th on my desk. It was certainly a great pleasure to hear from you and to be informed of your 39th Annual Convention in Miami, August 3 through August 7th, 1958.
I regret, very deeply, that a long standing commitment in another section of the country will make it impossible for me to be in attendance. I remember, so vividly, the rich experience that came to me last year when I had the good fortune to attend your meeting in New Orleans.
As you probably know, we have a new organization in the south known as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of which I am serving as president. This organization has tremendous possibilities. We have already received enthusiastic support from leaders all across the south. Our basic aim is to implement the desegregation decision of the Supreme Court on the local level through nonviolent means.
At present, we are in the midst of intensifying our drive to get folk out to vote. It is our hope that through our efforts and those of other organizations, we will be able to double the number of Negro registered voters by 1960.
Although I cannot attend the meeting in Miami, I would appreciate it very much if you would give a few minutes to our representative from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to make a statement concerning our work. Our associate director is Miss Ella J. Baker. She is a very able person and a stimulating speaker.
I have already mentioned the National Beauty Culturist League to her and she expressed great interest in it. She would be more than happy to attend the convention in Miami. If this is at all possible, please contact me and I will immediately relay the message to her.3
As you state so well in your letter, the women of the nation and the south have a tremendous role to play in this tense period of transition. This is one of the reasons we employed a woman as associate director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. We felt the need of bringing together this vast wealth of latent potential.
Again, may I thank you for your gracious invitation to me and repeat my regret because I cannot be with you.
However, it is my fervent hope that you will find it possible to give Miss Baker just a few minutes at your meeting.
My good wishes and prayers are with you for the best convention ever.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dictated but not read.
1. In his morning presentation at Booker T. Washington High School in New Orleans, King stressed the importance of the ballot, legislation, and education in the struggle for justice in the South, adding: "I am not too optimistic to believe that integration is 'just around the corner.' We have come a long, long way and we still have a long way to go, but we must keep moving in spite of the delay tactics used by segregationists" (Marcus Neustadter, "'New Age Comin'—King," Louisiana Weekly, 10 August 1957).
2. Katie E. Whickam, who became president of the National Beauty Culturist League in 1957, was elected assistant secretary of SCLC at the May 1959 meeting in Tallahassee, thereby becoming SCLC’s first woman officer.
3. Baker probably addressed the National Beauty Culturists on 5 August (Baker to I. M. Augustine, 21 July 1958).
MLKP-MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Boston University, Boston, Mass.