In the letter below, King responds to SCLC executive committee member Kelly Miller Smith's request for King to send a congratulatory message to Nashville's sit-in protesters.1 King explains that his response was delayed while he dealt with his perjury case in Alabama.
Rev. Kelly Miller Smith
319 Eighth Avenue, North
Nashville 4, Tennessee
On returning to the office I found your letter of May 24, on my desk asking me to send a message of congratulations to the students of Nashville who did such a magnificent job in their nonviolent campaign against lunch counter segregation. I regret so much that I was out of place at the time this letter came in. It so happened that I was facing the ordeals of an Alabama court at that time. I can assure you that I would have been more than happy to send a message if I had known about it before going into court. As I have said before, Nashville provided the best organized and best disciplined group in the whole southern student movement.2 I have said this publicly and privately. And so I would like to give the students a belated message of congratulations and I would also like to express once more my appreciation to you for your magnificent leadership in the whole struggle.
Very sincerely yours,
Martin L. King, Jr.
1. Smith's letter followed closely on the heels of the successful conclusion of the Nashville sit-in and boycott campaign. Following months of training by James Lawson, the Nashville sit-ins were launched on 13 February; lunch counters in the city began operating on a nonsegregated basis on 10 May 1960 ("Six Lunch Counters Here Serve Negroes," Nashville Tennessean, 11 May 1960).
2. During a 20 April 1960 address at Fisk University, King praised the Nashville students as "the best organized and the most disciplined in the Southland" and explained that he had come "not to bring inspiration but to gain inspiration from the great movement that has taken place in this community." King's speech was delayed nearly an hour by a bomb threat made credible by the previous day's bombing at the home of Nashville city councilman Z. Alexander Looby, an attorney who had defended students arrested during the protests (Garry Fullerton, "King Delayed by Bomb Scare," Nashville Tennessean, 21 April 1960).
MLKP-MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Boston University, Boston, Mass.