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From Reinhold Niebuhr

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Author: Niebuhr, Reinhold

Date: January 6, 1959

Location: New York, N.Y. 

Genre: Letter

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



Shortly after the September 1958 publication of Stride Toward Freedom, King inscribed a copy for theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: "In appreciation for your genuine good-will, your great prophetic vision, your creative contribution to the world of ideas, and your unswerving devotion to the ideals of freedom and justice." 1 In Stride King wrote that Niebuhr's work had greatly influenced his own theology, though he disagreed with Niebuhr's critique of pacifism.2

The Rev. Martin Luther King
Dexter Avenue Baptist Church
Montgomery, Alabama.

My dear friend Martin Luther King,

During the summer when I was absent in Princeton, New Jersey, you were good enough to send me your splendid book "Stride toward Freedom" with a very generous inscription.3 I did not see this book until I returned because no books were forwarded to me and my secretary could not acknowledge it because she did not know your address. Indeed I do not know it either but I am taking the chance of sending it to your church. I want to say how grateful I am for the book and for the inscription and for the splendid example which you have given both to your people and to the Christian people of the nation. Incidentally I read your book with great enthusiasm before you sent me the inscribed copy, but I am just as well pleased to have an inscribed copy and to give the other copy to my son.4

With cordial personal regards and best wishes for the new year.

Sincerely yours,
Reinhold Niebuhr.

1. King, Inscription to Reinhold Niebuhr, November 1958.

2. Stride Toward Freedom, p. 98: "True pacifism is not unrealistic submission to evil power, as Niebuhr contends. It is rather a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love." For King's earlier graduate school writings on Niebuhr, see "Reinhold Niebuhr's Ethical Dualism," 9 May 1952, and "The Theology of Reinhold Niebuhr," April 1953-June 1954, in The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., vol. 2: Rediscovering Precious Values, July 1951-November 1955, ed. Clayborne Carson, Ralph E. Luker, Penny A. Russell, Peter Holloran (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1994), pp. 141-152 and 269-279, respectively.

3. Niebuhr, a professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York, was a visiting scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study in 1958.

4. Niebuhr refers to his son Christopher.

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

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