Randolph asks King to reconsider his decision not to speak at the Madison Square Garden rally, explaining that promotional literature publicizing King’s presence had already been distributed. Because King symbolized the Montgomery struggle, Randolph writes, “we can scarcely adequately ‘Salute the Heroes of the South’ without you.” Handwriting on this letter says, “sent telegram,” but King responded by letter on 10 May.1
Rev. Martin Luther King
309 South Jackson St.
Dear Reverend King:
Mr. Benjamin F. McLaurin, who has been responsible for coordinating the historic Madison Square Garden Civil Rights Rally for May 24th, has informed me of the embarrassment created for you and for us in relation to your coming to the Rally.
After Mr. Nixon’s telegram was received, we naturally proceeded with publicity, including posters and leaflets calling for “Salute and Support of the Heroes of the South—Autherine Lucy, Rev. Martin Luther King, Dr. T. R. M. Howard and Gus Courts.”2 When a day or so later Bayard Rustin reported that there had been some misunderstanding and that you felt you could not come, we saw no way to recall the promotional literature that had gone out to all major religious, labor, and civic organizations in Greater New York and New Jersey. For one thing, the time and cost involved in attempting to do so would have been confusing, if not impossible, and extremely costly.
I know how very busy you are and how much you are urgently needed in Montgomery. Yet, on reflection, I feel I should point out the significance and importance of the Rally in relation to our entire struggle for freedom:
It will command national attention. It will undoubtedly represent the most extensive aggregation of organizational support that any such effort ever has had, including such groups as the National NAACP, The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the Catholic Dioceses, Jewish Clergymen, the Protestant Council, and hundreds of other labor and community groups. Finally, we have hopes of raising $100,000 to be divided between the National NAACP, the Montgomery Improvement Association, and the victims of economic boycotts in Mississippi and South Carolina. This alone is the most extensive financial effort yet made.
For these reasons, and because we can scarcely adequately “Salute the Heroes of the South” without you—since you have become in the minds of Americans a symbol of the Montgomery struggle—will you, therefore, reconsider your decision? In this connection, we are prepared to make arrangements by plane that will ensure your spending the shortest possible time away from home.
Needless to say, I know the pressure you are under, and normally I should not urge you to return to New York one week after you have been here on the 17th, but I feel this rally to be of such importance to you in Montgomery and for the entire struggle that I urge you to reconsider coming.
May I hear from you telegraph collect as soon as you have had time for consideration.
A. Philip Randolph
1. See pp. 252-253 in this volume.
2. E. D. Nixon’s telegram has not been located. Theodore Roosevelt Mason Howard (1908-1977), chief medical examiner at Friendship Clinic in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, was co-founder of the National Medical Association and president of the Mississippi Regional Council of Negro Leaders. In November 1955 he spoke at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church about segregation in Mississippi. Gus Courts, a store owner and local leader of the Mississippi NAACP, was harassed and shot in 1955 when he insisted on his right to register to vote. Courts survived the attack but eventually left the state.
MLKP-MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University, Boston, Mass.