Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation

From Norman Thomas

Main content start

Author: Thomas, Norman

Date: September 1, 1959

Location: New York, N.Y.

Genre: Letter

Topic: Martin Luther King, Jr. - Political and Social Views


Thomas, a Socialist Party leader who had corresponded with King during the bus boycott, invites him to co-sponsor a public forum to discuss world peace and human rights during Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev's visit to the United States.1 In his 5 September reply, King indicated that he would “be happy to serve" as a sponsor.2

Martin Luther King, Jr.
301 S. Jackson
Montgomery, Ala.

Dear Martin Luther King, Jr.

The impending Khrushchev-Eisenhower talks are of profound importance to all of us. Certainly any discussion in the present tense situation is a healthy thing.

There is a danger, however, that in all the discussion of the pros and cons of the visit, certain key issues may be overlooked. The point which some of us believe should be emphasized is that while the talks are a good thing, they cannot end the Cold War until both major powers are prepared to deal with the basic issues.

We are arranging for a large public meeting at Community Church here in New York the night of September 20-- following immediately after Khrushchev’s visit to this city. We hope at that time to raise the basic issues of disarmament, disengagement, ending nuclear tests, human rights, national self-determination, etc., that must be discussed if peace is to become a reality.

In a sense we plan to discuss a possible “agenda” for these two leaders to concentrate on-- we want to use the visits not to attack or to praise one side or the other, but to focus public attention on the basic problems underlying the Cold War.

I am writing to ask if you would agree to serve on the Ad Hoc Sponsoring Committee-being formed for the sole purpose of sponsoring this one public meeting. The suggested list of sponsors is enclosed with this letter, with asterisks indicating those who have already agreed to serve.3

Speakers being invited include Eleanor Roosevelt, James P. Warburg, Roger Baldwin, George Kennan, A. J. Muste, Rep. William Myers, and myself.4 We had hoped you might be able to speak but Bayard Rustin tells me that you cannot make it that evening. Stanley Issacs, the Republican member of the New York City Council, has agreed to chair the meeting.

May we hear from you immediately-- by collect wire-- to know if you will agree to serve.

Norman Thomas


1. One month earlier, King declined Thomas’s invitation to be interviewed for a nationally distributed radio program, citing scheduling conflicts (King to Thomas, 31 July 1959).

2. King was among the signatories of a 3 September New York Times advertisement applauding the Khrushchev-Eisenhower talks (Clarence Pickett to King, 27 August 1959). He also agreed to sign a statement drafted by the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy calling for arms control (Maude L. Ballou to Norman Cousins, 11 September 1959).

3. The list of fifty-two proposed members included labor leader A. Philip Randolph, sociologist C. Wright Mills, urban planner Lewis Mumford, psychologist Erich Fromm, and playwright Tennessee Williams (“Proposed members of the ad hoc committee on the Eisenhower-Khrushchev talks,” 1 Sep-tember 1959).

4. Warburg served as a financial advisor to the Roosevelt administration; Baldwin co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 1920; Kennan was a historian, diplomat, and U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1952; Muste was a leading pacifist; William Meyer was a congressman from Vermont.

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

© Copyright Information