Responding to a 25 September request by his friend Walter McCall, King recommends McCall to succeed the Reverend Ralph Mark Gilbert of First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia. King sent a copy of this letter to McCall.1 On 22 October Bryant told King that "a favorable response will be forthcoming, "but McCall was not called to its pulpit.2
Mr. Raleigh Bryant, Clerk
The First African Baptist Church
23 Montgomery Street
Dear Mr. Bryant:
It came as a deep shock to me to learn of the sudden death of my very good friend Dr. Gilbert. In his passing both Savannah and the nation sustain a great loss.
I am sure that within the next few weeks you will begin thinking of calling a pastor to succeed the noble pastorate of Dr. Gilbert. I would like to suggest to the pulpit committee the name of The Rev. Walter R. McCall who is presently serving as Dean of Men at the Fort Valley State College, Fort Valley, Georgia. Rev. McCall is emminently qualified to fall in the footsteps of Dr. Gilbert. He has a rich academic background, having received the AB Degree from Morehouse College and the BD Degree from Crozier Theological Seminary. He is a very profound and dynamic preacher. After hearing him for several years I always go away deeply moved by his sermons. As a pastor, he would have few peers. He possesses a most radiant personality and the gift of dealing with people of all levels of life. Above all, he is a Christian gentleman. Everybody who knows Rev. McCall will agree that his character is above repute.
I can say all of these things without reservation because I know Rev. McCall very intimately. For more than ten years he has been one of my most intimate personal friends. We were classmates at Morehouse College and also at Crozier Theological Seminary. I can assure you that the First African Baptist Church would be richly benefitted in considering Rev. McCall as pastor. I hope you will find it possible to invite him to preach.
Your son Raleigh was a school mate of mine at Morehouse College. Please extend my best regards to him. You have my prayers and best wishes for God’s guidance as you embark upon the seas of calling a pastor.
With every good wish, I am
M. L. King, Jr.,
(Dictated by Rev. King but signed in his absence.)
1.King to Walter R. McCall, 15 October 1956. See also McCall to King, 29 October 1956, pp. 406-407 in this volume. Ralph Mark Gilbert (d. 1956), a graduate of the University of Michigan, became pastor of First African Baptist Church in 1939, where he remained until his death. A member of the NAACP, Gilbert organized a movement to hire the first African-American policeman in Georgia. On 13 June 1955, at Gilbert's request, King had arranged a meeting of Montgomery ministers during Gilbert's tour of the South for the New Standard Publishing Company.
2.Raleigh A. Bryant (1896-1984), born in Mariana, Florida, attended Florida A&M College. A World War I veteran, he joined the postal service in 1916 and worked there for forty-four years until his retirement. Gilbert also served as clerk of First African Baptist Church; after his retirement the church ordained him as a minister. Bryant moved to Atlanta in 1968, where he became an assistant pastor of Israel Baptist Church and aided services at Mount Vernon Baptist Church.
MLKP-MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Boston University, Boston, Mass.