In this reply to King's 30 August letter, Nixon comments on the Civil Rights Bill of 1957, which Eisenhower signed on 9 September.
The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
530 South Union Street
Dear Dr. King:
It was most thoughtful of you to write as you did on August 30.
As you recognized in your comments, the bill which was finally passed by the Congress, and signed by the President, was not as strong as we would have liked. I certainly agree with you, however, that it is much better than no bill at all, particularly in view of the final amendment adopted in Conference which gives the Federal Judge the power to impose fines up to $300 and jail sentences up to forty-five days without jury trial in criminal contempt cases.1
The true test of the adequacy of the bill, however, will be determined by how effective its provisions turn out to be in practice. If a substantial number of negro citizens who have not exercised their franchise before, register and vote as a result of the passage of this bill, the adoption of this legislation will have marked the greatest step forward in the cause of human rights since the Emancipation Proclamation.
I am sure you know how much I appreciate your generous comments with regard to my personal activities in behalf of the Civil Rights Bill. My only regret is that I have been unable to do more than I have. Progress is understandably slow in this field, but we at least can be sure that we are moving steadily and surely ahead.
Mrs. Nixon joins me in sending our best wishes to you and Mrs. King.
1. One month later King offered his own reflections on the final version of the Civil Rights Bill in a speech before a group of trade unionists: “We must also admit that the final bill that emerged as a result of the conference between the representatives from the House and the Senate is much stronger than the almost emasculated bill that came down from the Senate, and I think we can use this to be a powerful instrument in the surge toward integration and in the attempt to gain political power” (King, “The Future of Integration,” 2 October 1957).
MLKJP-GAMK, Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers (Series I-IV), Martin Luther King, Jr., Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Inc., Atlanta, Ga., Box 2