Thomas, a thirty-six-year-old North Carolina prison inmate convicted of perjury and illegal possession of whiskey, writes King of his hopes to become a minister after his release.1King replied on 9 October.2
Dr. M. L. King, Jr
Dexter Avenue Church
Dear Mr. King:
I followed the every movement of the MIA and thank God you emerged as a great leader and outstanding American. In February when you and 150 other citizens were arrested I was in Chicago and it electrified the people . . . Negroes in barrooms hotels night clubs cafes—paused and prayed for you . . . . . you won for God was on your side . . .
I have just finished reading the King Plan and I believe the eight points stressed will do us as a race a great deal of good . . . 3
When I left my home in St. Augustine to enter college I planned to finish college and then enter a seminary to prepare for the ministry. After gaining a M.A from Columbia I entered business . . I made a small fortune. At the age of 30 I had accumulated $100,000 cash and had three prosperous businesses—I forgot God—I quit the church, I worshipped my money—I mistreated my wife—(I began dating intimately 3 or 4 outside gals each week)—I became a pretty sorry individual.
On October 12,1955 I was arrested and charged with subordination of perjury . . I knew nothing about the charge . . I took the case to NC Supreme Court but they ruled against me . . . I had eight of best lawyers in this country but still had to come to prison. . . . I declare unto you, one week of prison life changed me. . . . It has shown me what a fool I was . . . My wife has stuck by me . . . For my adultrous acts I have asked her forgiveness—I have read the Bible through twice—I need some religious books.
The purpose of this letter is to ask you to recommend some good religious books and publishing houses from which I can purchase them—
Can you let me see your copy of “The Social Principles of Jesus” by Walter Rauschenbush.—This is a must book.1 One question worries me—“Will the public accept a minister who is a former convict?
I plan to get out on parole on January 16, 1957-September 1957 if parole board allows me, I will enter school—
What seminary would you recommend?
Please take time out and answer my letter—please do not divulge contents of my letter to anyone for I want no sympathy from anyone.
I certainly hope that Mrs. King and your little girl are in the best of health.
[signed] Samuel S. Thomas
1. Samuel S. Thomas (1919-?), born in Thomasville, Georgia, graduated with a B.S. in social science from North Carolina A&T College in Greensboro and earned an M.S. from Columbia University in 1944. At the time of his conviction he owned a bail bond business in Greensboro. He was paroled from North Carolina’s Central Prison on 2 April 1957 after serving nine months of a three-to-five-year sentence.
2. See pp. 397-398 in this volume.
3. The July 1956 edition of Ebony featured King’s eight-point plan to “get rid of segregation in most areas of American life by 1963.” His suggestions were: “Resist the evil of segregation in a passive, nonviolent spirit”; “Use the weapon of love in our everyday relations”; “Mobilize for an all-out fight for first-class citizenship”; “Get out the vote”; “Continue legal and legislative fight”; “Awaken the church to its social responsibilities”; “Close the gap between the classes and the masses”; and “Be prepared.” King expanded on the last point by advising African Americans to “skillfully and intellectually prepare ourselves to live in an integrated society” (quoted in Lerone Bennett, “The King Plan for Freedom,” Ebony, July 1956, pp. 65-68).
4. Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918), a pioneering social gospel theologian and preacher, published The Social Principles of Jesus in 1916.
MLKP-MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Boston University, Boston, Mass.