SCLC Press Release, "Dr. King Leaves Montgomery for Atlanta"
Author: Southern Christian Leadership Conference
Date: December 1, 1959
Location: Atlanta, Ga.
Genre: Press Release
In the following press release, King explains that his decision to leave Montgomery was a response to pleas from his SCLC colleagues, and he links his move with the announcement that “a full scale assault will be made upon discrimination and segregation in all forms.” The news of King's relocation to Atlanta prompted Georgia governor Ernest Vandiver to vow that King would be kept under surveillance and prosecuted if he were “responsible for strife involving law violations.”1
Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Inc.
208 Auburn Avenue, N.E.
For immediate release:
Atlanta, Georgia--“The time has come for a broad, bold advance of the southern campaign for equality,” declared Dr. Martin Luther King as he announced that he is shifting his base of operation from Montgomery, Alabama to Atlanta, Georgia.
Dr. King is resigning as pastor of Montgomery’s historic Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and moving his family to Atlanta, where he will become co-pastor with his father in the 4,000 member Ebenezer Baptist Church. This new post will give the “American Gandhi” more time and a much better location to direct the south-wide campaign of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of which he is head.
Dr. King will remain associated with the Montgomery Improvement Association, which launched and directed the world-famous bus boycott. He has assured it’s members that he will be in and out of Montgomery “almost as much as ever.”
For the past year, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference has been pleading with Dr. King to give it the maximum of his invaluable leadership.2 Dr. King emphasized his change of residence was a painful decision, but came in response to the appeal of the SCLC that the time was right for expanded militant action across the South, and for which his presence closer to headquarters was indispensable. In responding to this urgent request, he said: “After prayerful consideration, I am convinced that the psychological moment has come when a concentrated drive against injustice can bring great tangible gains. We must not let the present strategic opportunity pass.
“Very soon our new program will be announced. Not only will it include a stepped-up campaign of voter registration, but a full scale assault will be made upon discrimination and segregation in all forms. We must train our youth and adult leaders in the techniques of social change through non-violent resistance. We must employ new methods of struggle, involving the masses of our people. At the same time, we must realize that our crusade for citizenship is also for integrity. We cannot lay the whole blame for our short-comings upon those who oppose us. We must purge ourselves of internal jealousies, defeatism and criminal behaviour.
“Atlanta is perhaps the most strategic location for the headquarters of this expedition. We intend that it shall reach the far corners of every state of the South.
“I hate to leave Montgomery, but the people here realize that the call from the whole South is one that cannot be denied.”3
One of the oldest members of Dr. King’s church in Montgomery, speaking for his fellow members stated that “Rev. King will not truly be leaving us because part of him always will remain in Montgomery, and at the same time, part of us will go with him. We’ll always be together, everywhere. The history books may write it Rev. King was born in Atlanta, and then came to Montgomery, but we feel that he was born in Montgomery in the struggle here, and now he is moving to Atlanta for bigger responsibilities.”4
In emphasizing the importance of extending voter registration to all parts of the South, Dr. King stated that in 1960 Negroes and their allies are planning a huge and dramatic demonstration on a national scale. The foremost leaders, North and South, will collaborate to insure the presidential candidates are committed to a vigorous program to achieve concrete progress in every area of life.5 Further details will be forthcoming after the first of the year from a national coordinating committee.
1. “Vandiver Says Rev. King Not ‘Welcome’ Here,” Atlanta Daily World, 2 December 1959. King reflected on Vandiver’s statement in a letter to a supporter: “Why Governor Vandiver made such an extreme accusation I do not know, other than the fact that he probably felt the need to appeal to some of the reactionaries who vote to keep him in office” (King to Lee Peery, 23 December 1959).
2. A late November SCLC document detailed the need for King’s “close presence virtually on a day to day basis” and called upon him “to take up the new and enlarged mission by a rearrangement of his schedules and if necessary by a change of his residence” (SCLC, “Suggested draft for amplifying press release,” 11 November–30 November 1959; see also Associated Negro Press, Press release, 18 November 1959).
3. In a subsequent interview King elaborated on his feelings about leaving: “I have a sort of nagging conscience that someone will interpret my leaving Montgomery as a retreat from the civil rights struggle. Actually, I will be involved in it on a larger scale. I can’t stop now. History has thrust something upon me from which I cannot turn away” (“Why Rev. M. L. King Is Leaving Montgomery: Leader Says Time Is Ripe to Extend Work in Dixie,” Jet, 17 December 1959, p. 15).
4. Richard Harris, an MIA activist, indicated to a reporter that he was proud of King’s move: “He’s a big league ball player who has been batting .1000 in the minors. I’d rather see him in the majors, even if he bats only .350. Montgomery can’t be selfish about Rev. King because we’ve never really owned him. He belongs to the whole country” (“Why Rev. M. L. King Is Leaving Montgomery,” p. 17).
5. For more on the demonstrations at the Democratic and Republican national conventions, see King and Randolph, Statement Announcing the March on the Conventions Movement for Freedom Now, 9 June 1960, pp. 467-469 in this volume.
Source: MLKP, MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University, Boston, Mass.