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To Sammy Davis, Jr.

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Author: King, Martin Luther, Jr.

Date: December 20, 1960

Location: Atlanta, Ga.?

Genre: Letter

Topic: Martin Luther King, Jr. - Travels


King thanks Davis for his "wonderful support" of the upcoming 27 January 1961 Carnegie Hall "Tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr." 1 King also praises aspiring playwright Oscar Brown's musical Kicks & Co. for its portrayal of "the conflict of soul, the moral choices that confront our people, both Negro and white."

Mr. Sammy Davis, Jr.
Sherry-Netherland Hotel
5th Avenue at 59th Street
New York 22, New York

Dear Sammy:

I have been meaning to write you for quite some time. A sojourn in jail and a trip to Nigeria among other tasks have kept be behind.

When I solicited your help for our struggle almost two months ago, I did not expect so creative and fulsome a response. All of us are inspired by your wonderful support and the Committee is busily engaged in the preparations for January 27th. I hope I can convey our appreciation to you with the warmth which we feel it.

In the midst of one of my usual crowded sojourns in New York, I had the opportunity to hear the play, "Kicks and Co." by Oscar Brown at the invitation of the Nemiroffs, at whose home I have previously been a guest.2 I learned of your interest in it and I am deeply pleased.

To my knowledge, rarely has there come upon the American scene a work which so perceptively mirrors the conflict of soul, the moral choices that confront our people, both Negro and white, in these fateful times. And yet a work which is at the same time, so light of touch, entertaining—and thereby all the more persuasive.

Art can move and alter people in subtle ways because, like love, it speaks through and to the heart. This young man's work will, in its own special way, affect the conscience of vast numbers with the moral force and vigor of our young people. And coming as it does from a source so eminently influential, the Broadway theatare{re}, and an actor of such stature as yourself, it will be both an inspiration and a sustenance to us all.3

In that context, let me share with you again my appreciation for the motives and the wisdom that have led you to it.

Very sincerely yours,
Martin Luther King, Jr.


1. On 5 December, Stanley Levison sent King a draft of this letter and invited King to "change or adapt it any way you see fit." King did not change the text before sending it to Davis. Sammy Davis, Jr. (1925-1990), born in New York City, studied tap dancing under Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. He served in the U.S. Army for two years during World War II. A popular performer, Davis appeared on Broadway and in motion pictures. In the 1960s, he became associated with the Rat Pack, a group of Hollywood entertainers including Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Davis wrote two autobiographies, Yes I Can (1965) and Why Me? (1989). In 1968, he was awarded the NAACP's Spingarn Medal.

2. Robert Barron Nemiroff, husband of playwright Lorraine Hansberry, co-produced "Kicks & Co." and helped arrange Oscar Brown's recording contract with Columbia Records.

3. In January 1961 Nemiroff sent King a copy of Brown's latest album and reported that Davis would most likely be unable to star in the anticipated Broadway production of Kicks & Co. (Nemiroff to King, 19 January 1961). The play opened in Chicago in 1961 but never appeared on Broadway.

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

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