In his address at the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, Congressman Adam Clayton Powell called for the development of a “third force” in politics to deal with racial injustice in the United States: “We meet here today in front of the Abraham Lincoln Memorial because we are getting more from a dead Republican than we are getting from a live Democrat or a live Republican. . . . It's time for we Negroes to bring a third force into the American political scene. I’m sick and tired of Democrat and Republican. Yeah, I’m a Democrat—but before I was a Democrat I was a Negro, and before I was a Negro I was a child of God, and I’m sick and tired of this two party hypocrisy.”1 Writing to King on 19 June, Garrett and Wilhelmina Plummer asked his opinion of Powell's proposed non-partisan political movement of Negro people, that would be led by the clergy.” 2 Below King responds to this issue and their query concerning the status of the MIA.
Mrs. Ramona Garrett
502 West 143rd Street
New York 31, New York
Dear Mrs. Garrett:
Thanks for your very kind letter of June 19. Absence from the city and an accumulation of a flood of mail have delayed my reply.
I have noted the contents of your letter with care. Certainly I am deeply concerned and we are doing all that we possibly can to solve the problem of civil rights which confronts us at this time. I am not sure what Rev. Adam Powell meant by the phrase “a third force.” I have not had an opportunity to talk with him on this matter. But now it is vitally important that some type of force come into being to spur the Democratic and Republican parties to more aggressive action in the area of civil rights. Actually the Negro has been betrayed by both political parties and the more we make this known the better it will be. If this is what my good friend Dr. Powell means by the third force I am in hearty agreement with him.3
It is very heartening to know of your interest in the cause of freedom. As you say there is a real job in the North and in the whole area of making persons concerned enough about their citizenship rights to go to the polls and vote. I think every northern community should organize movements to increase the voting strength of the numerous Negro citizens in the large northern cities.
Thanks again for your interest and your encouraging words. Let me say that the Montgomery Improvement Association is still in existence. It is functioning now as much or more than it did in the past. Our job has just begun. We would appreciate your continued cooperation.
Yours very truly,
M. L. King, Jr.,
1. Powell, Address at the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, 17 May 1957. The New York congressman also told the crowd that he wanted “to pay homage to that brilliant young prophet that God has put in a particular spot at a particular time, the Rev. Mr. Martin Luther King.”
2. Garrett and Plummer, who attended the Prayer Pilgrimage as members of the Organization for Justice for the Negro People, also shared their experience of the event with King: “Our souls were uplifted. We are positive that history is in the making. There is no doubt in our minds, after witnessing the thousands at the Pilgrimage, united for freedom and justice, that you are the accepted leader we have been praying for.” An identical letter was sent by William Jackson and Lannie Foose, members of the same organization. Garrett had earlier written King requesting “a personal letter from you stating the facts of the bombing and dynamiting of homes and churches we could read” at a benefit for the MIA (Garrett to King, 31 January 1957).
3. In his speech Powell described this concept as “a force that will be non-partisan but definitely political; a force that will be non-racial but at the same time led by our Negro clergy who have given the greatest spiritual witness of any group of Christians in this century in the United States. A force that will he non-denominational, inviting men of all faiths. . . . bringing about direct mass action through the unity of the people. . . . until we bring American bigotry to its knees.”
MLKP, MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University, Boston, Mass.