A day after E. D. Nixon’s home was bombed, King and the MIA executive board discuss the need to protect mass meetings and leaders from violent reprisals. After appointing a committee to organize church patrols, the executive board discusses the ongoing federal lawsuit, particularly the role of the local NAACP branch. They also decide to move the MIA office from the Alabama Negro Baptist Center to Ralph Abernathy ’s First Baptist Church.
|DATE:||February 2, 1956||Observed by:||Donald T. Ferron|
|TIME:||11:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m.||Presiding:||Rev. M. L. King|
Executive Board Meeting
Prayer: Rev. Palmer1
Rev. King: “We got to decide how the suit will be handled”. There has been an “increase in the amount of violence in recent days”. “Fortunately no one was injured; that was very fortunate. I don’t know the motives, whether along line of fear tactics, or attempts at bodily harm. They may become more desperate with the suit on. We need right now a comittee of 50 people who will volunteer to patrol all of the churches where mass meetings are being held (before and during). Look for time bombs and the like. Now this mustn’t get to the people, because it may panic them and they may not come. I’m not saying that these things will happen, but it’s well to take precautionary measures. The minute that it was announced that the Commissioners had joined the white Citizens Council, we received 20–25–30 threatening calls each day. We’re not going to give up; they can drop bombs in my house every day, I’m firmer now than ever. I went to the sherrif to get a permit for those people who are guarding me. “Couldn’t get one”. In substance he was saying ‘you are at the disposal of the hoodlums.2
“Mrs Reese agreed to be plaintiff last night, but I heard that she had been to the Mayor’s office and withdrew. How will that affect the case?”3
Atty. Gray: “It won’t effect the case, but the whites will use it as a propaganda technique.”
Mr. Binion: “Her husband received a call this morning from a man with a rough voice who asked for Julia Reese.” He said she was “not home.”
“Is she in town?”
“Better tell her not to be in town tonight!”
Dr. Seay: “I don’t pose to be a wise man, but there’s one thing I’m deadsure of—you had better turn over every leaf. Make sure you know the husband, for God’s sake. We have to use precautions every step of the way.”
Rev. King: suggestion that two committees be formed immediately:
1. “To talk with plaintiffs”—to give them “assurance”, let them know “we’re behind them”.
[Appointment of committee members is omitted.]
2. To see that the churches are patrolled.
[Appointment of committee members and a suggestion concerning its function are omitted.]
Rev. King: “You are to contact the ministers, keep secret, they are not to let anybody know that they are doing this. We don’t want it to get out because it will hurt our mass meetings. You should start out immediately.”
Rev. Glasco: “There was a meeting held yesterday concerned with the use of the Baptist Center by the Association. 3:45 p.m. Baptist Association. office. Dr. Davison, Sup’t of Missions decided that due to the lengthy run of the movement, and since it has taken on a political angle, you might say; it has been suggested by the Committee yesterday that they (M.I.A.) should seek other quarters for their organizations or operations. Up until now, any decision made concerning the Center’s operation was made by the colored trustees—the “whites” would go along with it.”
[Discussion of Glasco’s comment is omitted.]
Rev. King: “What is the latest that we can move out—without jeporadizing the Center, and Rev. Glasco’s position? I think the position of the white Baptists is that they’re just against it. I don’t want to accept anything from them—that’s just my feeling about it.”
[After some discussion the board decided to move MIA headquarters to First Baptist Church.]
Rev. King: “As you know the suit is before us. So the question is, what is our role now? Whether or not the name of the NAACP might create emotional disturbance (tension on part of “whites”), if not otherwise mentioned.”
Mr. Matthews: “Dr. Berry called me and asked for a meeting. He advanced this thought-whether the local branch will take the responsibility, or Mrs. Hurley—Regional Director of the 7 states.”4
[Rev. Bennett: “Would the Naacp stay in the background?”]5
Mr. Matthews: “I firmly believes this—that if it remains local, they would. I’m not saying they would. When the case is appealed to a high court, I’m sure that the National NAACP would step in then. If the NAACP takes over the case, Atty. Gray would have the assistance of the staff of the National NAACP. Any pay would go to lawyer Gray, and not to anyone else.”
Atty. Langford: “If the case goes to a higher court” there will be “another lawyer”.
Rev. Hubbard: “All of us belong to the Naacp, or should.” I say bring the whole thing out “in the open.” “Turn over the whole thing to the NAACP, and let the Association support the NAACP financially”.
Rev. King: “What about transportation?”
Atty. Langford: “Continue the protest until the hearing of the district court. they must answer the charges within 20 days or we win by default.”
Rev. Palmer: “Will we be able to make enough money to support the NAACP and the protest at the same time? The NAACP says it won’t work in the background. Would we get any help from the state office?”
Rev. King: “I understand that they’ve been raising money for the Rosa Parks’s case.”
Mr. Matthew: “The only expenses you have are the expenses of the two lawyers, if the NAACP takes the case.”
Rev. Seay: “To me it doesn’t matter who handles this case, this is still our case (Negroes of Montgomery). I don’t think we should go out for saying we’re raising money in the name of the NAACP.”
Rev. Palmer: “Since Mrs. Hurley will be here at 5:30, I move that we table the discussion until then”. (Motion carried.)6
Moved that Association assume the responsibility for paying fees for night watchmen out of Sunday offerings to the movement.—homes of key individual leaders.
Mrs. P[arks]: “Some strange men have been coming in my neighborhood inquiring about the woman who caused all of this trouble. I’m not worried about myself, but it does upset my mother quite a bit.”7
Motion (by Rev. Bennett) carried that the Association assume responsibility for giving Mrs. Parks protection at night.
1. Hustis James Palmer (1907-1971), a native of Evergreen, Alabama, was pastor of Rock Elvin Baptist Church in Troy, Alabama, and an upholstery shop owner. He served on the MIA’s membership and transportation committees and also as a driver in the car pool. He was among the indicted boycott leaders. Palmer was later secretary of the MIA.
2. On 31 January 1956 King met with Governor James Folsom to discuss the MIA’s doubts about the protection offered by the Montgomery police department (see Cliff Mackay, “Ala. Bus Boycotters Sing ‘My Country ’Tis of Thee,’” Baltimore Afro-American, 11 February 1956). The next day King (along with two other ministers, Ralph Abernathy and H. H. Hubbard) applied for a weapons permit, but the local sheriff denied the application (see “Negro Leader Fails to Get Pistol Permit,” Montgomery Advertiser, 4 February 1956).
3. Jeanatta Reese had decided that day to withdraw from the Browder v. Gayle lawsuit (“Negro Woman Withdraws Action on Segregation,” Montgomery Advertiser, 3 February 1956). Although Fred Gray disputed her contention that she “didn’t know” what she was signing when she agreed to participate, he was later arrested for unauthorized legal representation and released on bond. The charges were dropped once Reese’s name was withdrawn from the list of plaintiffs. See “Boycott Attorney Indicted by Grand Jury,’’ Montgomery Advertiser, 19 February 1956; and MIA Newsletter I (7 June 1956).
4. Robert L. Matthews, Montgomery NAACP president, refers to the organization’s southeastern regional secretary, Ruby Hurley (1909–1980), who studied at Washington, D.C.’s Miners Teachers College and Robert H. Terrell Law School. Hurley was the NAACP’s national youth secretary before becoming its first southeastern regional secretary in 1951. She investigated the racial murders of Emmett Till and George Lee and was with Autherine Lucy when University of Alabama students physically attempted to keep her from the campus. After Alabama attorney general John Patterson obtained an injunction against NAACP activity in June 1956, she moved her office to Atlanta, where she continued to investigate racial injustices.
5. From Ferron’s handwritten notes of this meeting.
6. King and other MIA leaders met with Hurley and Alabama field secretary W. C. Patton later that day, deciding that the Browder v. Gayle federal lawsuit would be “turned over to the local branch of the NAACP.” King had argued that “we need the Naacp in an advisory capacity, the machinery they have set up over a period of years.” The MIA promised to provide “necessary contributions” for legal costs (Ferron, Notes, Joint MIA and NAACP Meeting, 2 February 1956). On the handling of legal costs, see also King to Wilkins, 3 March 1956, pp. 151-152 in this volume, and their subsequent correspondence.
7. One of the indicted boycott leaders, Rosa Parks recalled in her autobiography that her family was threatened and harassed during the boycott. Her husband kept a gun by his bed, while her mother would occasionally call a friend and “talk for long periods just to jam the lines so the hate calls couldn’t get through for a while.” The Parks family left Montgomery in 1957. See Rosa Parks, with Jim Haskins, Rosa Parks: My Story (New York: Dial Books, 1992), p. 161.
PV-ARC, Preston Valien Collection, Amistad Research Center, New Orleans, La.