The son of P. O. Watson, longtime clerk of Ebenezer Baptist Church, Watson was dean of the Morehouse School of Religion.1 Watson offers friendly criticisms of King, Jr.’s 10 August sermon at Ebenezer entitled “The Challenge of Communism to Christianity.”2 King served as Ebenezer’s pastor in charge during the summer.
Dear Little In-Coming Doctor!
I thought I would take a few minutes and set down my reaction to your sermon on last Sunday: The Challenge of Communism to Christianity.
In spite of the fact that you announced that you were presenting a religious lecture, you did succeed very well indeed in sermonizing your theme. It was really not just a lecture. From where I sat it seemed to me that you should have been encouraged by the response. Some people did sleep, but some would have slept regardless of the theme.
Your major points seemed to me to be sound: (1) Social Justice (2) Dedication (3) Unite for Action.
There are one or two details that came out in your development that I would like to mention:
Most folk who speak of religion and the communist attitude toward it discuss the question out of context. What you said about the communist attitude toward religion was true. But you don’t have a proper appreciation of the communist attitude toward religion until you read the history of the church in Russia. When you set Marx’s attitude toward religion in the context of the history of the Christian church in Russia, the conclusion you reach is likely to be very sobering and will probably not make especially good sermonizing material.
Stalin would certainly not make the question of race a sub-point as you did on Sunday. With him it is a major point. It was he who as Commissar of Nationalities
who wrote into the Soviet Constitution the proposition which makes the treatment of persons on the basis of race a national offence in the Soviets and it was he who argued that the Soviet Union would make a strong appeal to nations of the East—India, Japan, China, et al., if she established the reputation of dealing with all races on the basis of equality. Ref. to Stalin’s book: “Marxism and the National and Colonial Question.” I think there can be no doubt about it that the appeal of communism to the Eastern nations today can be traceable to a large degree to the Soviet attitude toward race. This is a strategic policy with Russia.
I have made these observations, but they by no means indicate a lack of appreciation for the fine job you did on Sunday.
Every good wish.
[signed] Melvin Watson
1. Watson (1908–) graduated in 1930 from Morehouse with King, Sr. After receiving the M.A., B.D., and S.T.M. at Oberlin he studied at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California, earning a doctorate in theology in 1948. Watson was dean of men and professor of religion at Shaw and Dillard universities before he returned to Morehouse as dean and professor of philosophy and religion in the School of Religion, where he remained for many years. While teaching at Morehouse he became pastor of Liberty Baptist Church in Atlanta, where he still serves. Watson’s publications include “The Social Thought of Paul Tillich,” Journal of Religious Thought 10, no. 1 (Autumn–Winter 1952–1953): 5–17.
2. In 1963 King published the similarly titled sermon “How Should a Christian View Communism?” in Strength to Love (New York: Harper & Row, 1963), pp. 93–100.
MLKP, MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University, Boston, Mass.