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To Leila M. Barlow

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Author: King, Martin Luther, Jr. (Dexter Avenue Baptist Church)

Date: August 5, 1957

Location: Montgomery, Ala.?

Genre: Letter

Topic: Martin Luther King, Jr. - Career in Ministry


This testimonial letter was included in a bound volume presented to long-time Dexter member Barlow at a 6 August program honoring her thirty-two years of service to Alabama State College.1In her memoir, Across the Years, Barlow praised her pastor for teaching his congregation “that non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral duty as cooperation with good.” 2 She also credited King with broadening her understanding of why Christians must stand against segregation. As she put it: “I had always opposed it [segregation] but had not directed my thinking entirely to a Christian's viewpoint." 

Miss Leila M. Barlow
The Alabama State College
Montgomery 1, Alabama

Dear Miss Barlow:

I would just like to join your many friends in congratulating you upon retirement from a great and noble career. As you retire from your many duties at Alabama State College we are cognizant of the fact that this community will sustain a great loss. But we will not be so selfish as to forget that your retiring at this time is something that you so richly merit on the basis of the lasting contribution that you have made to the community. Hundreds and thousands of students have been inspired by your wise and challenging teaching and they have been sent forth into the world to keep the light of truth and goodness shining. 

As your pastor, I can truly say that it has been a deep joy working with you. By all standards of measurements, you have proven to be one of the most devoted and loyal members of our church. You have always responded to the call of duty. Your love for Alabama State and Dexter Avenue Baptist Church will be an inspiration to generations yet unborn. May God’s richest blessing be with you as you go forth into this new and creative phase of your life. I am sure your life will be packed with meaning and joyous living.

I am happy to thank you for your contribution to the church, to the college and to the community.

Sincerely yours,
Martin Luther King, Jr.,


1. J. Garrick Hardy of Alabama State solicited King’s letter (Hardy to King, 25 July 1957). Leila Mae Barlow (1891-1982), born in Americus, Georgia, earned a B.A. (1914) from Spelman College and an M.A. (1931) from the University of Wisconsin. Before joining the faculty at Alabama State in 1924, Barlow taught English at Morris College in Sumter, South Carolina (1914-1918), and at Americus Institute, a private black high school in Americus, Georgia (1918-1924). Barlow was the first president of the Montgomery chapter of the National Council of Negro Women and served as superintendent of the adult Sunday school at Dexter while King was pastor. 

2. Barlow, Across the Years (Montgomery, Ala.: Paragon Press, 1959), pp. 53-54. 

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

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